Western leaders urge Russia to cool Ukraine tensions ahead of Biden-Putin call

Biden to warn Putin of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

Steve Holland
Tuesday 07 December 2021 09:38
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<p>Biden and Putin will hold a call to deal with military tensions over Ukraine</p>

Biden and Putin will hold a call to deal with military tensions over Ukraine

Western leaders have called on Russia to lower tensions with Ukraine ahead of a high-stakes call between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Washington will warn Moscow about its build-up of troops and against any invasion.

Russian forces have been massing on the border with Ukraine in recent weeks in large numbers, fuelling concerns among some in the West that Putin will soon authorise an invasion and prompting warnings from NATO and several global powers.

Biden spoke to the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Britain on Monday, who underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions, according to the White House.

They said their teams will stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach.

US officials said Biden will use a video conference with Putin later on Tuesday to tell him that Russia will be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

They said the sanctions, which said could target Russia‘s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack.

A separate source familiar with the situation told Reuters that targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision had been made.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied harbouring intentions to attack and has said the posture of its troops is purely defensive.

It in turn has raised concerns about Ukrainian intentions and has said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost to Russia-backed separatists.

A senior US official said Biden would warn Putin of severe economic penalties if he launches a war.

The US has urged both countries to return to a set of agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 and designed to end a separatist war by Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

"He will make clear that there will be very real costs should Russia choose to proceed, but he will also make clear that there is an effective way forward with respect to diplomacy," the official told reporters.

The two leaders head into the talks with scant room for compromise.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the talks would focus on what Russia regards as NATO’s creeping expansion towards its borders, as well as long-term security guarantees for Russia.

Putin has said he wants legally binding guarantees NATO will not expand further eastwards and a pledge that certain types of weapons will not be deployed in countries close to Russia, including Ukraine.

Some Russian and U.S. analysts have suggested the leaders could agree to set up de-escalation talks and the Kremlin has made clear it wants a new Putin-Biden summit next year.

However, Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council which is close to the Foreign Ministry, said the two men’s positions were unlikely to be reconciled.

“The only thing they can probably agree on - if it turns out to be a good conversation is that everybody directly or indirectly engaged there in the situation should demonstrate restraint and commitment to de-escalate,” he said.

“But otherwise I see no way how Biden can promise Putin that NATO will not go east.”

Reuters

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