Biden, Putin Hold Appeal Amid Tensions Over Ukraine – White House

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Joe Biden will hold a video call with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to highlight U.S. concerns over the build-up of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine, the White House said.

Diplomats indicated earlier this week that Biden and Putin would speak.

A statement released on Saturday evening said the US president would “hold a secure video call” with his Russian counterpart.

“The leaders will discuss a range of topics in US-Russian relations, including strategic stability, cyber issues and regional issues,” the statement said.

“President Biden will underscore the US concerns regarding Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. “

Kiev and the NATO powers accuse Russia of forming troops near Ukraine, raising fears of a possible attack. Moscow denies any such plan and accuses Ukraine of building up its own forces in its east, where Russia-backed separatists control much of Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin said the two leaders will also talk about bilateral relations and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June.

“The conversation will take place on Tuesday,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. “Bilateral relations, of course Ukraine and the realization of the agreements concluded in Geneva are the main [items] on today’s agenda. “

The exact time of the call was not disclosed.

More than 94,000 Russian soldiers are said to be massed near the borders of Ukraine. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday that Moscow may be considering a full-scale military offensive by the end of January, citing intelligence reports.

US officials have come to similar conclusions, they said.

Biden has rejected Russian demands for security guarantees in the region.

“I expect we’ll have a long talk with Putin,” Biden told reporters on Friday as he left for a weekend at Camp David.

“I don’t accept red lines from anyone. “

The US president said he and his advisers were preparing a comprehensive package of initiatives to deter Putin from an invasion. He did not give more details, but the administration has discussed a partnership with European allies to impose more sanctions on Russia.

Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said separately that Washington is determined to ensure Ukraine has what it needs to protect its territory. Austin added that there was plenty of room for diplomacy and leadership to work on Ukraine.

“They’ve invaded already,” Austin said, when asked how concerned he was about the situation on Saturday.

“And if we look at the number of forces that are in the border region, when we look at some of the things that are happening in the information space, when we look at what is happening in the cyber domain, it really raises our worry, ”Austin said.

“We are certainly determined to help Ukraine defend its sovereign territory. “

James C McConville, chief of staff of the US military, spoke on Saturday of estimates of 95,000 to 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I’m very, very worried,” McConville said.

Moscow accuses Kiev of continuing its own military build-up, has dismissed suggestions as arson that it is preparing for an attack on its neighbor to the south, and has defended its right to deploy troops in its own territory as it sees fit.

US officials say they don’t yet know whether Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine.

US-Russian relations have deteriorated for years, most notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria, and US intelligence accusations of meddling in the 2016 elections won by Russia. Donald Trump. Relationships have become even more volatile in recent months.

The Biden administration called on Moscow to crack down on ransomware and cybercrime attacks emanating from Russian soil, and in November it indicted a Ukrainian national and a Russian in one of the worst ransomware attacks against US targets. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has carried out or condoned cyber attacks.

The two leaders have had a face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January, in Geneva in June. They last spoke by phone on July 9. Biden appreciates direct talks with world leaders, seeing them as a way to reduce tensions.

Its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm earlier this week that American and European allies would impose “serious costs and consequences on Russia if it took further aggressive measures against Ukraine ”.

Earlier on Saturday, Russia said an Aeroflot airliner flying from Tel Aviv to Moscow was forced to change altitude over the Black Sea because a NATO CL-600 reconnaissance plane crossed its flight path.

The state-owned airline said flight SU501 carrying 142 passengers must have fallen 2,000 feet on Friday after air traffic control told it another plane had crossed its path. The crew were able to see the other plane, he said.

Aviation authority Rosaviatsia said a smaller CL-650 aircraft flying from the Black Sea resort of Sochi to Skopje also had to change course. He did not specify which NATO member the reconnaissance plane belonged to. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it had sent fighters to escort two US reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea. The US Embassy in Moscow made no immediate comment on the incident.

Rosaviatsia said an increase in NATO flights created risks for civilian planes and that Moscow planned to file a diplomatic complaint.

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