For the second time in three weeks, the presidents of the United States, Joe Biden, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, spoke on Thursday by phone of the tension around the border of Ukraine, before which the Kremlin has concentrated thousands of troops in the last two months. The contact, at Putin’s request, anticipates the bilateral meeting that the US and Russia will hold on January 10 in Geneva, which will not be attended by any of the presidents. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, and the US Under Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, will negotiate on his behalf.
Moscow insists on bringing a series of demands to the meetings, including legal guarantees that NATO will not carry out military reinforcements on Russia’s European borders, especially Ukraine’s. The spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitri Peskov, clarified before the call, which lasted 50 minutes, that this would be “a continuation of the discussion that began with the virtual meeting” three weeks ago, and that in it they would address the issues foreseen in the January agenda. “The talks have a single purpose: to reach a compromise taking into account the position of the other,” said Peskov, underlining that Moscow believes that “only with negotiations is it possible to solve the abundant urgent problems.” “We are ready for a conversation, we want that conversation,” he stressed.
Washington views Russia’s movements on its border with Ukraine as an attempt to redesign the map of Europe’s eastern flank. Although the White House defends diplomatic channels as the first option, it has also warned that it has prepared a battery of sanctions on the Russian economy and financial system if the Kremlin breaks with it. the status quo. These would go “far beyond those of 2014”, when Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and sponsored the eastern Ukrainian rebellion against Kiev. “We are prepared for diplomacy and to advance along this path, but also to respond if Russia goes further with an eventual invasion of Ukraine,” a senior official of the Biden Administration warned on Wednesday, in a call with journalists.
Washington does not see the slightest sign of de-escalation on the ground. “We continue to see a significant presence of Russian troops around the Ukrainian border. And President Biden has indicated to President Putin that for there to be real progress, and for us to achieve a scenario of security and stability in Europe, a de-escalation context will be required, ”the official explained.
The Kiev government has eased the tension by stating that it does not see a threat of overt aggression from the Russian side. “Yes, there is an increase in Army forces. But we do not see a significant concentration on our borders, as published by some media abroad, “said the secretary of the Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danílov, yesterday, according to the Interfax agency.
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Washington maintains its commitment to the agreements on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, stressed the senior White House official. But always under a multilateral diplomatic umbrella that Russia seems reluctant to take on. “Russia has presented a full agreement proposal between Russia and NATO. This obviously needs to be discussed in the context of NATO. And the issues related to Ukraine fit into the context of the OSCE, ”stressed the White House source.
Three weeks of frenzied multi-party negotiations have made it clear that the US does not want to make a solo move on this thorny issue. Secretary of State Antony Blinken contacted Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenski and his British, French and German counterparts on Wednesday. The Kremlin, on the contrary, is more inclined to deal directly with the White House, while at the same time urging the United States to return to the international agreements that President Donald Trump abandoned.
Russia has already presented its demands to achieve what it considers to be “security guarantees.” These proposals were published by the Foreign Ministry on December 17, and Washington’s silence in the following days made the Kremlin impatient. Four days later, Putin held a meeting with the army leadership in which he threatened to take “retaliatory technical-military measures” if NATO protected Ukraine, among other countries that Moscow considers under its orbit. “We need long-term binding guarantees (…). We know that, even with legal guarantees, the United States cannot be believed because it easily withdraws from international agreements, ”Putin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Federation, warned his high command.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a draft with its proposals “to prevent dangerous military activities and reduce the probability of incidents between its armed forces.” According to the Russian proposal, the Atlantic Alliance “assumes the obligation to prevent an expansion of NATO to other states, including the accession of Ukraine”, and refuses to carry out military exercises in that region, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In addition, Moscow requires the Alliance to “undertake not to deploy its armed forces and weapons on the territory of all other European countries” and, in the event of a security threat, that deployments be made only “with the consent of all participants”. In other words, in a war like the Donbas, Russia would have to give the go-ahead to send arms from the United States to Kiev.
Moscow demands Washington to return to the Iranian deal
Hours before the phone call, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reiterated two of the key ideas for Moscow: that NATO should not admit more eastern countries and that the US return to international agreements. The Kremlin is demanding that Washington demonstrate “in a tangible way” its intention to return to the Iranian nuclear pact of 2015, which it abandoned in 2018 during the Trump presidency.
“It is not about concluding a new agreement. This will require a methodical effort, literally piece by piece, to repair the balance lost by the actions of the United States, “said the spokeswoman, who threw another dart by stating that” obviously, the status of violator of a Security Council resolution of the UN makes Americans uncomfortable. ” The White House noted that the nuclear pact with Iran would be on the table in yesterday’s call, although it underlined the “really constructive talks” taking place in Vienna.
Between Moscow and Washington and, by extension, NATO, there are more pending disputes than that of eastern Ukraine. The installation of Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in 2018 and Washington’s withdrawal from the medium and short-range missile treaty in 2019 are seen as a threat by their counterparts.
“The frequency of the actors’ contacts clearly speaks of their interest in finding a worthy result,” says Aleksandr Borisov, professor at the International Institute of Foreign Relations in Moscow. For the think-tanks more pro-Kremlin, the responsibility for the current situation rests more heavily with the West. “The Americans and their NATO allies have gone too far in portraying Russia as an antagonist, and Russia, as Putin said, has nowhere else to retreat,” Borisov added in an email exchange before quoting a line from the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck on the Slavic country: “There are 100 ways to get a Russian bear out of a den, but not a single way to get it there.”
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