US President Joe Biden warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that Washington will impose “strong” sanctions in the event of a military escalation in Ukraine.
“President Biden expressed the deep concerns of the United States and our European allies about Russia’s escalation of forces around Ukraine and made it clear that the United States and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of a military escalation. “the White House said in a statement after the summit between the two leaders.
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin held a high-stakes exchange Tuesday with fears of a military escalation in Ukraine as the main challenge.
“It’s good to see you again” Biden said according to Russian television images of that telematic meeting that lasted about two hours.
“I greet you, Mr. President”, Vladimir Putin said, smiling, seated at a long table, in front of a screen in which his American counterpart appeared. Putin was at his residence in Sochi, a seaside resort along the Black Sea.
Biden participated from the White House “Crisis Room”; an ultra-secret area from where the most delicate military operations are carried out, which shows the level of tension. The United States did not show images.
The United States, accused of acting on its own during the withdrawal from Afghanistan and of undertaking international issues without much respect for its allies, strongly insists on its close coordination with the Europeans and the Ukrainians.
After his exchange with Putin, Biden will phone French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday; the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel; and the Italian Prime Ministers, Mario Draghi, and the British, Boris Johnson. On Monday he had asked them to stay in “close contact.”
In the next few days, Biden must also report on the conversation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski, the US executive announced on Monday.
“Stable” and “predictable”
Washington’s optimism to create a “stable” and “predictable” relationship with Russia, as stated in June during an in-person meeting between the two leaders in Geneva, seems to be on the sidelines for now.
Washington, NATO and Kiev accuse Moscow of deploying troops on the border with Ukraine to attack the country, repeating the scenario of 2014 when the Russians annexed the Crimean peninsula. Since then, more than 13,000 people have died in the conflict that broke out.
The Kremlin denies any plan to invade Ukraine. And Moscow reproaches Washington for neglecting its own concerns: the accumulated presence of countries of the NATO in the North Sea, the Ukrainian will to join the Atlantic Alliance and Kiev’s ambition to arm itself with Western support.
“Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have red lines,” he added.
Many experts in Europe and the United States think Putin is faking it, but few totally rule out the hypothesis of an attack.
If Moscow takes action, a senior White House official said Monday the United States would “respond affirmatively.” to a request for a greater military presence in Eastern Europe and would strengthen its support for the Ukrainian army.
Washington, which seems to exclude a direct military response, also threatens more economic sanctions against the Putin regime as those it has imposed since 2014 have not had the expected effects.
There is speculation about the possibility that Washington will leave Russia out of the SWIFT bank identification system, a key cog in global finance that enables banks to transfer money.
“We know well that the US side has an addiction to sanctions,” the Kremlin spokesman quipped on Tuesday.
Biden, who has called Putin a “murderer”, has to handle the Ukrainian crisis tactfully, if he does not want to arouse criticism from his traditional allies, already outraged after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, completely chaotic and without consultation between them.
The US president was careful to speak with European leaders on Monday, including those of France and Germany, to insist on their common “determination” to defend Ukrainian sovereignty.
Biden will personally communicate the outcome of the meeting with Putin to Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski, upset in recent months at signs that Ukraine’s officially open process of accession to NATO appears frozen.
But neither Kiev nor Washington have given guarantees, as Moscow demands, that Ukraine will not join – like so many countries of the former Soviet bloc – the Western military alliance.
The very holding of this summit is in itself a victory for Putin, who wants to affirm Russia as a power in the global geopolitical game, currently dominated by the rivalry between China and the United States.
But the Ukrainian issue is not the only one on the table.
Strategic stability and control of nuclear weapons, hacking and cybersecurity, or even the Iranian nuclear issue, are several of the topics to be discussed on Tuesday.
“It is clear that when two presidents go to a dialogue, it is that they want to debate the problems and do not point to an impasse,” Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov said on Tuesday. “But do not expect immediate progress”, he warned.
With information from AFP
Ukraine and Putin’s message to the world