Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin hold a call on Ukraine military tensions

The White House said that US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin began a phone call today on diplomatic solutions to the escalation of tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

A White House official from Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden is spending the New Year holiday at home, said the call requested by the Kremlin leader «happened at 3:35 p.m.» (2035 GMT).

It was the second time Putin and Biden had spoken in just over three weeks, reflecting intense diplomacy to try to resolve the dangerously escalating standoff on the fringes of Eastern Europe.

Before the call, both parties insisted they were ready to listen. But with today’s talk setting the stage for tough, low-level, face-to-face negotiations in Geneva in January, there were few signs of major concessions on the horizon.

Washington and its European allies accuse Russia of threatening Ukraine with a new invasion of the former Soviet Union. About 100,000 Russian soldiers are massed near the country’s borders, where Putin actually captured the Crimea region in 2014 and is accused of fomenting a pro-Russian separatist war that broke out that same year in the east.

Moscow describes the troop presence as protection against the advance of the West, particularly NATO, although Ukraine has not been offered membership in the military alliance.

Earlier this month, the Russians issued a sweeping set of demands, including guarantees that NATO would not expand further, and a ban on new US military bases in the former Soviet Union.

The United States rejects what it describes as the Kremlin’s attempt to dictate the future of independent states, and warns that if troops cross into Ukraine, Russia will face harsh economic sanctions backed by both Washington and European Union capitals.

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Previous Western sanctions imposed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea had little effect.

«Conversational Mood»

A senior administration official told reporters before the phone call that Biden was going to offer Putin a «diplomatic path» out of the crisis.

«But we are also ready to respond if Russia advances an additional invasion of Ukraine,» the official said, adding that Washington remains «extremely concerned» about the military buildup and wants Russian forces «to return to their normal training areas.»

In a letter sent to Biden on vacation hours before their conversation, Putin said he was «convinced» that we «can move forward and establish an effective Russian-American dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and consideration of each other’s national interests.»

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin was «in the mood for a conversation».

«We believe that only through talks can all the urgent problems that we frequently have between us be resolved,» Peskov said.

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US support for Ukraine

The January talks will see Russian officials sit separately with negotiators representing the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Regional Security Forum, which also includes the United States.

The Russian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and the US delegation by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Ukraine, which wants to join NATO but has been told it is far from ready to win acceptance, is careful not to be excluded from any broader agreement.

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U.S. officials have gone to great lengths to insist that no decision will be made behind the Ukrainians’ backs and that while U.S. troops will not be sent to defend the country against Russia, ongoing deliveries of weapons and other military aid are set to expand if Moscow attacks.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said a US aircraft carrier group would remain in the Mediterranean as reassurance to European allies, and on Thursday, CNN quoted a military official as saying that a powerful US spy plane flew over eastern Ukraine for the second time this week. .

The report said the aircraft is capable of monitoring large areas of territory and tracking and photographing everything from vehicles to other aircraft.

© – Agence France-Presse, 2021

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