‘Two paths’: Biden and Putin call yields threats, diplomacy

Wilmington, Delaware: US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have again exchanged warnings over Ukraine but conveyed some optimism that upcoming diplomatic talks in January could help ease spiralling tensions.

Despite the talk of diplomacy, the tone of their 50-minute call on Friday (AEDT) was described by officials on both sides as “serious”. And neither side detailed significant progress towards a resolution.

Shamans in Lima, Peru, hold photos of US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin during a year-end ritual where thy asked world leaders be cleansed, so they can make wise decisions in the coming year.Credit:AP

For his part, Biden reiterated his threat of unprecedented sanctions if Russia chose to invade Ukraine.

“Biden laid out two paths,” including diplomacy, said a senior administration official.

“The other is a path that is more focused on deterrence, including serious costs and consequences should Russia choose to proceed with a further invasion of Ukraine.”

Aides have said the possibilities include measures that would effectively disconnect Russia from the global economic and financial system, while further arming the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European military alliance.

A Ukrainian soldier walks on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine. A build-up of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine has heightened worries that Russia intends to invade the Donbas region, held mostly by separatists.Credit:Getty Images

Russian foreign affairs advisor Yuri Ushakov said Putin “immediately responded” that any sanctions now or later “could lead to a complete breakdown in ties between our countries”.

“Our President also mentioned that it would be a mistake that our descendants would see as a huge error,” he added.

“It would be a colossal mistake that would entail grave consequences,” Ushakov said. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia would act as the US would if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders.

Putin requested the call, the second between the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior US and Russian officials set for January 10 in Geneva.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on December 31.Credit:AP

“President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Ushakov said the call created a “good backdrop” for future talks. They will also include a Russia-NATO session on January 12, and a broader conference including Moscow, Washington and other European countries slated for January 13.

Moscow has alarmed the West by massing tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine in the past two months, following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia denies planning to attack Ukraine and says it has the right to move its troops on its own soil as it likes.

Moscow, worried by what it says is the West’s re-arming of Ukraine, has said it wants legally binding guarantees NATO will not expand further eastwards, and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.

Draft security documents Moscow submitted demand that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

The US and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees on Ukraine that Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any qualifying country. They agreed, however, to hold talks with Russia to discuss its concerns.

US concerns have not ebbed in recent weeks, according to a senior Biden administration official, despite a report over the weekend that Russia would be pulling back about 10,000 troops from its border with Ukraine. Other officials said they have seen little evidence Russia is pulling back from the border.

The security proposal by Moscow has raised the question of whether Putin is making unrealistic demands in the expectation of a Western rejection that would give him a pretext to invade.

Biden and Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss an array of tensions in the US-Russia relationship, are not expected to take part in the January talks. They also spoke by video call on December 7, when, the White House said, Biden put Moscow on notice that an invasion of Ukraine would bring sanctions and enormous harm to the Russian economy. Russian officials have dismissed the sanction threats.

Reuters, AP

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