Biden, Putin hold key summit on Ukraine
News Desk || shiningbd
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes on Tuesday, Russian state TV reported, amid Western fears that Moscow is poised to invade its southern neighbour.
Russian TV footage showed Biden and Putin greeting each other in a friendly manner at the start of what was expected to be a tense exchange. Biden told Putin he hoped their next meeting would be in person.
The Kremlin has said it hopes the two leaders can hold an in-person summit to discuss what it has described as the lamentable state of US-Russia relations, which have sunk to their lowest since the end of the Cold War.
US officials said before the video conference that Biden would tell Putin that Russia and its banks could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it attacks Ukraine.
They said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.
The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday’s meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and has said its troop posture is defensive.
But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping Nato expansion.
Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.
“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the US. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
The United States has shared intelligence about Russian military movements along the border with allies, a senior Biden administration official confirmed to reporters while previewing the call.
The official did not go into details but said “we have seen the movement of additional capabilities and forces to the vicinity of Ukraine in multiple different areas. And these movements are consistent with the planning that we see underway for a military escalation in Ukraine”.
The United States and allies have discussed crippling financial sanctions as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We have had intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine. And we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the Europeans and the US that would impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy, should they choose to proceed”.
Asked if the US could consider deploying troops to defend Ukraine, the official refused to discuss “the particular sensitive challenges” that Biden will lay out for Putin but said, “the US not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of American military force, as opposed to a combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures, and the substantial increase in support and capability to our Nato allies to ensure that they remain safe”.