It was in the distance, in a virtual meeting, but the words that were thrown sounded so close and sharp as if they were separated by just a small coffee table. Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin they had a two hour conversation which revolved primarily around the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The two showed their cards very clearly. The Russian reiterated that he will not allow his former Ukrainian ally and neighbor to join NATO, the Western Defense Alliance, or to sign a pact to allow European defense lines to be deployed in its territory and reach the border of its country. The American reiterated that I was not going to accept any “red line” point of no return like the one proposed by Putin and that he had a tough sanctions list if Russian tanks were to cross the Ukrainian border.
“The things we did not do in 2014 (when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea), we are prepared to do now,” Biden said to Putin, raising his eyebrow as he does when he wants to emphasize his words. Spoke of disconnect Russian finances from the international Swift transfer system, the deployment of troops and the Patriot missile defense system in the nearby Baltic republics and cutting off the supply of Russian gas that is transported through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
As the conversation flowed down these stony lanes there were some skirmishes on the Russian-Ukrainian border between separatist forces from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which form the Donbas border territory, and have been under the control of Russian-backed separatists since 2014. Tuesday’s exchange of fire occurred at three locations along the so-called line of contact, a barricade of trenches and fortifications some 250 kilometers long between Ukrainian soldiers and their opponents in a protracted war of attrition. The Ukrainian side suffered no casualties, according to the press office of the army of that country. It is unclear whether the separatists made losses. According to the Ukrainians, it was the separatists who fired first. Although this type of violence occurs almost daily in the region, in this period of explosive tension it is feared that one roving bullet or mortar shell is all that is needed to trigger a serious escalation. On the Russian side, several brigades with tanks and missiles made up of some 175,000 soldiers have already been deployed. Of the Ukrainian there are more than 100,000 soldiers, almost half of the army of that country.
“The president reiterated the United States‘ support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He told President Putin directly that if Russia continues to invade Ukraine, The United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures”Said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan shortly after. “We will provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians on top of what we are already providing, and we would fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such escalation.”
The presidents chatted through a video link connected to the TNet system, a high-security network operated by the Department of Defense. It was exactly two hours and one minute. According to the Oval Office, the two leaders also discussed cyberattacks by Russian hackers, nuclear weapons control, and Iran‘s nuclear program. In the recording of the first minutes of the conversation, for the photos, the leaders were seen relaxed and smiling. Putin was sitting behind a long wooden desk, with Biden on a large video screen in front of him., in a living room of his residence in Sochi, the Russian resort city on the shores of the Black Sea. Biden was in the White House accompanied by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and two other officials who run Russian affairs in the Administration. He just broke up with Putin, the American president contacted his European allies to inform them of what was discussed. There were the French Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel -on his penultimate day in office-, the Italian premier, Mario Draghi, and the British one, Boris Johnson.
The tensions between Ukraine and Russia, both former Soviet states, intensified in late 2013 by a landmark Kiev political and trade agreement with the European Union. After then-pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych suspended the talks under pressure from Moscow, violent protests broke out in Kiev that lasted for weeks. In that context, In March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southern Ukraine with strong Russian loyalties, on the pretext that it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens. Shortly after, pro-Russian separatists from the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence from Kiev, sparking months of intense fighting. Despite the fact that Ukraine and Russia signed a peace agreement in Minsk in 2015, with the mediation of France and Germany, there are daily violations of the ceasefire. The conflict, so far, has left more than 3,000 dead.
At that time, the European Union and the United States imposed a series of economic sanctions targeting specific individuals, entities and sectors of the Russian economy, which they did not do much damage to the iron network of power built by Putin. Now, with the new Russian military deployment, a new battery of deeper sanctions is being prepared. For example, if Russia is disconnected from the Swift system, its banks will not be able to make any international transfers to Western economic institutions or vice versa.
But neither the Pentagon nor the Biden Administration appear to be preparing for a direct confrontation with Russian troops. “It would be crazy”, a military source told the Defense One site. “I think the United States would only intervene by giving information on the Russian movements to the Ukrainians, but not much else.” This was reinforced by a “breefing” that took place in the Pentagon in which it was reported a plan to evacuate US citizens from Ukrainian territory if the Russian invasion occurs. “That is the only thing that the Pentagon is preparing, beyond the reinforcement of defense systems in Latvia and Lithuania,” added the military source. And in a “grim” briefing to senators by Senior State Department official Victoria Nuland on Monday night, she outlined the sanctions package prepared by the administration in response to a possible Russian attack, but recognized that America’s options for deterring an invasion are quite limited.
From Moscow, it seems that there is no iron will on the part of the military to go further than the exercises they are carrying out on the border. “The key objective of the Kremlin in the current crisis is not to inflict a humiliating defeat on Kiev or to take on the ugly task of occupying Ukraine. “wrote Maxim Samorukov, a fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center, in an analysis published a few hours before the presidential summit. “His aim is rather to convince the West that Russia is ready to start a full-scale war for Ukraine unless something is done about the existing situation and (in Putin’s eyes, at least) completely unacceptable,” Samorukov added. For Putin, any move by Ukrainian leaders to get closer to the West is an affront. And in Europe there are no warlike airs either. Countries in the north of the continent, including Germany, depend on Russia for much of their energy supplies, and their economies may suffer if relations with Moscow deteriorate further.
However, the tanks and missiles are deployed and in Ukraine the Russian offensive is expected by the end of January. In June, Putin published an article reaffirming that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people”, saying that the formation of an ethnically Ukrainian state hostile to Moscow was “comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us.” Eugene Rumer and Andrew S Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment think tank called Putin’s text a “historical, political and security predicament to prepare for an invasion.” And Pavlo Klimkin, a Ukrainian Foreign Minister, explained it like this: “Russia does not understand Ukraine and its nature at all. Russia has continuously tried to show that Ukraine is a kind of failed state, that Ukraine has no state, no history, no language, and no religion. It is a kind of separate reality and therefore, it can make its territory whatever it wants ”.
The long conversation between Biden and Putin is likely I have just put on some cold cloths that will lower the war fever in the next few days. It is a first step in a process that will take weeks. In about 50 or 60 days we will know if they found a satisfactory diplomatic solution for all parties. The signal will be the direction taken by the Russian tanks, if they advance towards Kiev or if they return to Moscow.
Biden and Putin will face off virtually this week to discuss Russia’s intentions in Ukraine.
Western powers expressed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and called on Russia to reactivate negotiations with
The US is willing to increase its troops in Eastern Europe if Russia attacks Ukraine