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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Biden and Putin to talk on Europe’s security and Ukraine before possible January meeting

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US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin will speak on the phone on Thursday, a White House security spokeswoman has said.

It comes two weeks before US-Russian talks on nuclear arms control treaties and the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. The West accuses Moscow to mass troops for a possible attack, while Russia has demanded that NATO halt its eastward expansion.

While on holiday in Delaware, Biden said he will be talking with the Russian leader again this week, and isn’t ruling out an in-person meeting on January 10 when officials from both sides are due to hold discussions.

When asked if he might meet Putin again during the talks announced by the White House yesterday, the US President said “we’ll see”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that the talks will take place in Geneva, where Biden and Putin met for their first summit in June.

The Kremlin has grown increasingly insistent that the West and NATO are encroaching dangerously close to Russia’s borders.

Moscow earlier this month presented the West with sweeping security demands, saying NATO must not admit new members and seeking to bar the United States from establishing new bases in former Soviet republics.

“The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia,” the US National Security Council spokesperson said.

“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well.”

Moscow and NATO representatives are then expected to meet on January 12, while the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia and the US, will address the tensions the following day.

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau of Poland, which takes the helm of the OSCE in the new year, will address the meeting.

Not just ‘blah blah blah’

The talks come after weeks of heightening tensions, with Washington accusing Moscow of massing tens of thousands of troops around ex-Soviet Ukraine and plotting a winter invasion.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow would take a “hard-line” in the talks, aimed at defending its interests and avoiding “concessions”.

At the United Nations, Russian deputy envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said the talks should be “serious” but also that Russia’s draft agreements were not an “ultimatum” to the US.

“I don’t think that our colleagues will get away with some blah blah blah thing as Greta Thunberg could say. So we really want something serious this time. It’s not an ultimatum, it was also underlined several times by my Foreign Minister and my President,” he added.

“It’s a constructive proposal, but it’s the proposal that works for everybody and that is in the interest of everybody,” he went on.

Ukraine has been seeking to break from Moscow’s sphere of influence and eventually join the NATO alliance.

Russia already occupies a swath of its neighbour in the Crimean peninsula and is accused of fomenting a separatist pro-Moscow rebellion in the industrial east of the country.

Deployment by Russia of tens of thousands of troops to the border sparked fears in Kyiv and among its Western allies of a wider war, possibly including further seizures of Ukrainian territory.

Putin denies planning to attack the neighbouring country, saying the troop movements are to defend Russia against an encroaching Western military.

The United States and its European partners have threatened to impose harsh economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, while also offering to hold negotiations.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, people are primarily concerned the country could become “a sacrificial lamb”, or could be sacrificed in some form, to become a geopolitical cold in talks between Russia and America, according to Peter Dickinson, Ukraine Editor at the Atlantic Council.

“There is what you could probably call the ‘Munich syndrome’ in the sense that Ukraine could be betrayed in some sort of grand deal, and there is a strong awareness that Russia seeks such a deal at the moment,” Dickinson told Euronews.

However, the US National Security Council spokesperson specified that Ukraine’s interests would not be ignored in cutting any deal with Russia.

Negotiations will include “nothing about our allies and partners without our allies and partners, including Ukraine,” the spokesperson added.

“President Biden’s approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: unite the alliance behind two tracks — deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine.”

His comments were further emphasized by Dickinson, who said that “the signs coming out of America are that the country will be resistant to that, it will not force Ukraine into any compromises that Kyiv is unwilling to make itself.”

“But of course, there is precedent for this, with the general response to Russia’s aggressive tone and the eight-year conflict, which is still ongoing, and which does not inspire confidence in Ukraine. Of course, people are hopeful that these talks will help resolve or turn down the current tensions, but there is anxiety, they fear that Ukraine could somehow end up coming out of this as the loser,” Dickinson went on.

“There’s always been a mantra in Kyiv: ‘Nothing about Ukraine, without Ukraine’, that was very much the case throughout the Petro Poroshenko presidency.”

“Vladimir Zelensky, the current president, has tried to maintain this, but there is a sense that he’s losing ground in this direction, that there are increasingly talks taking place about Ukraine without Ukraine. And that, of course, is feeding these fears, these fears of a Munich ’38 scenario in which Ukraine is presented with a ‘fait accompli’ and told basically: ‘Well, this is the reality, the West will not support you anymore, you have to make your terms or accept the terms that we have agreed with Russia over your heads’.”

“And at the moment, I think probably that fear is heightened given the nature of the Russian rhetoric and given the initial response from the Western powers. It will be a lot of concern in the coming weeks as we lead up to these talks in January,” he added.

The meeting will be part of the Strategic Security Dialogue initiative launched by Biden and Putin, which initially has focused on resuscitating post-Cold War nuclear arms control treaties.

Watch the full interview with Peter Dickinson, Ukraine Editor at the Atlantic Council, in the video player, above.

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