Putin and Biden hold two hours of talks amid Ukraine tensions | Conflict News

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Virtual talks between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have concluded, with the two leaders discussing a range of issues amid mounting tensions over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

“Greetings, Mr President,” Putin said in a brief video clip released by the Kremlin from Tuesday’s meeting. Biden said it was “good to see” his Russian counterpart, adding that he hoped their next session would be in person.

In a statement after the call, the White House said Biden “voiced the deep concern” of the US and its European allies “about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine” and made clear they “would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation”.

“President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. The two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and the U.S. will do so in close coordination with allies and partners,” the statement said.

The meeting on Tuesday, which the White House said lasted two hours and one minute, took place amid weeks of mounting tensions over a Russian military buildup near the country’s border with Ukraine.

Ukraine has said 94,000 Russian troops are massed along the border in the second such buildup so far this year, prompting a slew of warnings from top Biden administration officials seeking to deter Moscow from taking “significant aggressive moves” against Kyiv.

Biden said in advance of the summit that he was prepared to warn Putin of “high impact economic measures” if Moscow decided to invade Ukraine, instead urging the Russian president to take a diplomatic path.

For his part, Putin was seeking guarantees from Biden that the US and NATO would not advance military operations in Ukraine.

In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists seized a swath of territory in eastern Ukraine, igniting a conflict that has continued to simmer to this day.

Putin has said Moscow wants a guarantee that NATO will not entertain Ukraine as a potential future member. Biden administration officials have dismissed that demand, noting that only NATO members decide when other nations join the security alliance.

“NATO member countries decide who is a member of NATO, not Russia. And that is how the process has always been and how it will proceed,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday in advance of the Biden-Putin call.

In Moscow earlier on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Putin would convey Russia’s concerns about US military involvement in Ukraine and NATO’s eastward expansion to former Soviet states.

Peskov told reporters in advance of the call that “Russia has never planned to attack anyone. But we have our own concerns, our own red lines – the president spoke clearly about that.”

“Putin has repeatedly said that we look for good, predictable relations with the US,” Peskov told reporters in advance of the call with Biden, warning that US-Russia relations were, however, in “a rather dire state” and “quite lamentable”.

US talks with European allies

In the face of the Russian military buildup, the US and its European allies have emphasised a commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions and seek a resolution through diplomacy.

Biden held a conference call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom on Monday to discuss the situation.

“The leaders discussed their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric,” the White House said in a statement after the call. “The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The leaders also called for Russia and Ukraine to return to negotiations brokered by France and Germany aimed at resolving a border dispute in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and implementation of the “Minsk Agreements”, a pair of ceasefire agreements reached in 2014 and 2015.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday before the Putin-Biden call.

The top US diplomat “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression”. After the call, Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude for US support.

A senior Biden administration official said on Monday that Biden is expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming days, as well.



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