Biden warns Putin on Ukraine

Credit…Doug Mills / The New York Times

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir V. Putin dismissed President Biden’s concerns about the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, telling his American counterpart that it was the West that was exacerbating military tensions in the region by increasing its “military potential near our borders,” the Kremlin mentioned.

In an unusually long statement describing the two-hour video conference, the Kremlin said the talks were “of an honest and pragmatic character.” In a follow-up conference call with reporters, an adviser to Mr Putin, Yuri V. Ushakov, said the two leaders sometimes made jokes despite the seriousness of the issues being debated, and that Mr Biden spoke of the sacrifice. shared from the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II.

But the key message, the Kremlin said, was one Mr Putin had been repeating for several weeks: that Western military activity in and around Ukraine was approaching a “red line” threatening Russian security. (Western countries have increased their support for the Ukrainian armed forces and are conducting military exercises in the region, but say this activity does not threaten Russia.)

Biden told Putin he was concerned about Russian troop movements, Ushakov said, and warned of the “economic, financial and political” consequences for Russia if “the situation around Ukraine continues to worsen “. Putin rejected the threat of sanctions, said Ushakov, noting that “sanctions are nothing new for Russia”. He has made no promises to change the position of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, where Western officials fear Russia is planning an invasion.

“Russian troops are on their own territory,” said Ushakov, summing up Mr. Putin’s message to Mr. Biden. “They don’t threaten anyone.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Putin stressed that the stakes of the current crisis were more important for Russia than for the United States, declared his assistant.

“You Americans are worried about our battalions in Russian territory thousands of miles from the United States,” Putin told Biden, Ushakov said. “But we are really concerned about our own safety.”

Mr Putin reiterated his demand for “security guarantees” for Russia regarding Eastern Europe, including that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western “offensive weapons systems” are not placed in Ukraine. The Kremlin views Ukraine, a former Soviet country located between Russia and Western Europe, as key to Russia’s security and has long sought to maintain its influence there.

Mr Biden has agreed to discuss further the guarantees Mr Putin is seeking, the Kremlin said.

“The presidents have agreed to instruct their teams, their representatives, to get in touch soon on these sensitive issues,” Ouchakov said.

The Kremlin said the discussion also included cybersecurity, talks over Iran’s nuclear program and the state of visa restrictions and other measures that have reduced the U.S. and Russian diplomatic presence in their respective countries. Mr Putin proposed that all existing restrictions be “reset”, the Kremlin said; Mr Biden also expressed a wish to resolve the issue but did not immediately accept Mr Putin’s proposal, according to Mr Ushakov.

Mr Putin spoke to Mr Biden from the Russian resort of Sochi on the Black Sea, less than 300 miles from the front line in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces.

Despite tensions over the past year, the Kremlin has expressed satisfaction with the Biden administration’s willingness to engage with Russia, and Ushakov adopted a relatively positive tone about the nature of Wednesday’s meeting. . Before speaking about Ukraine, Mr. Ushakov said, Mr. Biden spoke “eloquently” and personally of the losses suffered by both the Soviet Union and America during World War II.

“It was quite honest and had a pragmatic character,” said Ushakov, using the same wording as the previous Kremlin statement. “But at the same time, there was also room for jokes and the exchange of compliments, that is, it was a normal conversation between two serious leaders when serious matters are being discussed.”

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