After two hours of negotiations on the mounting situation precipitated by Russia’s massing of tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin were still miles apart.
During a video conference with Putin on Tuesday, Biden issued a straightforward message: attack Ukraine again, and you’ll face severe penalties that will wreak havoc on your economy. According to Putin’s foreign advisor Yuri Ushakov, the Russian president told Trump that “the Russian forces are on their own soil, and they don’t endanger anyone.”
With no quick breakthrough to de-escalate tensions over Ukraine, the US highlighted the need of dialogue and de-escalation while threatening Russia with the severe consequences of a military intervention.
According to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Biden “specifically informed President Putin that if Russia continues to occupy Ukraine, the United States and our European partners will respond with harsh economic measures.” In reaction to such an escalation, Biden said the US would “give additional defense materiel to the Ukrainians… and we will bolster our NATO partners on the eastern flank with additional capabilities.”
Officials from the White House have stated that Biden is not interested in sending American troops in harm’s way in order to defend Ukraine. However, Sullivan cautioned that possible measures to strengthen regional allies might result in further US force deployments to NATO partners in eastern Europe.
Victoria Nuland, a top US diplomat, warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine would threaten the disputed Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany. “Our anticipation is that the pipeline will be terminated,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday if Russia attacked.
During his own press conference following the leaders’ meeting, Ushakov rejected the prospect of penalties.
“While the president of the United States discussed prospective penalties, our president focused on what Russia requires,” Ushakov said. “Sanctions aren’t new; they’ve been in place for a long time and haven’t had any effect.”
The presidents’ video chat, he said, was “candid and businesslike,” with some laughs thrown in for good measure.
On the 80th anniversary of the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, the two presidents gathered to commemorate the pivotal event that precipitated the United States’ entrance into World War II. According to Ushakov, they commiserated about the cost of the struggle to their own families. Biden and first wife Jill Biden paid a sad visit to a war memorial in Washington only hours before the high-stakes conversation.
The two leaders exchanged pleasant welcomes in a quick clip at the outset of their meeting shown on Russian official media.
“I welcome you, Mr. President,” Putin said, his back to a Russian flag and a TV monitor in front of him displaying Biden.
Biden was able to put out in straightforward words where America stands, according to Sullivan in the White House.
However, when the presidents of the United States and Russia conferred, Ukraine became increasingly concerned about the tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed on its border.
According to Ukrainian officials, Russia intensified the issue by deploying tanks and snipers to war-torn eastern Ukraine in order to “provoke retaliation” and create a pretext for an invasion.
According to an administration source who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic, US intelligence authorities have been unable to independently corroborate that assertion.
The White House, however, has expressed caution to the Russians about “reverting to their old playbook” by provoking the Ukrainians, according to the official.
Putin called Biden seeking assurances from him that a NATO military alliance extension would never encompass Ukraine, a demand that the US and its NATO partners refused to accept.
NATO had been “making reckless steps to increase its presence on Ukrainian soil and has been boosting its military potential near Russian borders,” according to a post-call statement from the Kremlin.
According to the Kremlin, Putin recommended lifting all mutual limits on diplomatic missions and assisting in the normalization of other elements of bilateral ties. According to Sullivan, the leaders would order their staff to continue the talks.
The meeting between Biden and Putin, which took place from the White House Situation Room and Putin’s villa in Sochi, was one of the most crucial of Biden’s administration and took place at a critical juncture.
Russian intelligence authorities have positioned 70,000 troops near the Ukraine border and are preparing for an attack early next year, according to US intelligence officials.
According to Sullivan, the US believes Putin has not taken a final decision to invade. When Russian soldiers marched into the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and took the land from Ukraine in 2014, Biden was vice president.
As Biden considers the simmering current issue, aides say the Crimea experience weighs big. It was one of the worst moments for then-President Barack Obama on the world scene.
Biden’s Republican opponents in Washington are presenting this as a critical test of the president’s global leadership. After President Donald Trump’s emphasis on a “America First” foreign policy, Biden promised as a contender to reclaim American leadership.
“I’ll look you in the eye and tell you, just as President Biden did today with President Putin, that things we didn’t do in 2014, we’re prepared to do now,” Sullivan said following the leaders’ video conference.
Republicans claim Biden has been ineffectual in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear power and has done too little to confront dictatorial leaders such as China’s Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Before the Biden-Putin meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked from the Senate floor, “Fellow authoritarians in Beijing and Tehran will be watching how the free world responds.”
During Tuesday’s chat, though, the two leaders did find common ground in one issue.
Biden and Putin had a “excellent talk” about attempts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, according to Sullivan, and it is an area where the two nations can collaborate.
“The more Iran shows a lack of sincerity at the negotiation table,” he added, “the more there will be a sense of solidarity among the US and the 2015 nuclear deal’s partners, including Russia and the European Union.”
Biden met with the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy for the second day in a row on Tuesday to coordinate message and possible penalties. On Thursday, Biden is due to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.