“What President Biden did today was to lay out very clearly the consequences if [Putin] chooses to go ahead. He also charted an alternate path, ”US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a post-meeting briefing. Beyond the agreement to continue talks, there was no sign of a tightening of positions in Moscow’s reading of the conversation, which followed weeks of tension over the gathering of Russian troops on the border. with Ukraine.
A Kremlin statement said Putin repeated Moscow’s accusation that Ukraine was behaving provocatively and adopting a “destructive line” aimed at dismantling the 2014 and 2015 agreements which sought to end a war with it. the Russian-backed separatists.
The Kremlin said Putin presented Biden with a demand for legally binding security guarantees that would rule out NATO enlargement. Putin said NATO was strengthening its military potential near Russia’s borders and “making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia still sends tanks and snipers, Ukrainian officials say
The two leaders had two hours of talks on Ukraine and other disputes on Tuesday, as Westerners fear Moscow is about to invade its southern neighbor.
Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have gathered near the Ukrainian border.
Just hours before Biden and Putin’s appeal began, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of exacerbating the crisis by sending tanks and snipers into war-torn eastern Ukraine to “Provoke retaliatory fire”.
The Kremlin did not comment on these specific allegations, but denied any intention to attack Ukraine and said the troops’ position was defensive.
But Moscow has expressed growing resentment over Western military aid to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has bowed to the West since a popular uprising overthrew a pro-Russian president in 2014.
Moscow has also questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to attempt to reclaim territory lost in 2014 to Russian-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.
The United States urged Russia and Ukraine to return to a package of agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 aimed at ending a Russian-speaking separatist war in eastern Ukraine.
“Sudden breakthroughs are hard to expect, but the presidents have demonstrated their willingness to continue practical work and start discussing sensitive issues that seriously concern Moscow,” said Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov, after the interviews.
Putin and Biden stressed the need to try to normalize their countries’ troubled relations and continue to cooperate on issues of mutual interest such as cybersecurity, Ushakov said.
Putin had done what he called a sweeping proposal to roll back all restrictions on their respective diplomatic missions, which he said could potentially help ease tensions between Moscow and Washington.
“It could be a way to cooperate in other areas,” Ushakov said.
Both countries have limited the number of staff working at their respective embassies in a series of tit-for-tat moves that have made it difficult for the US Embassy in Moscow in particular.
United States considers economic sanctions
U.S. officials said ahead of the video conference that Biden would tell Putin that Russia and its banks could face the toughest economic sanctions to date if they attack Ukraine.
They said the sanctions could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert rubles into dollars and other currencies.
A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle had been discussed, but no decision had been made.
CNN has signaled that the sanctions could include the extreme step of disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world.
Later on Tuesday, a congressional aide told Reuters that U.S. government officials told members of Congress they had an agreement with Germany to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invaded Ukraine.
German Gref, managing director of Russia’s biggest bank Sberbank, on Tuesday called potential sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks “nonsense” and said they would be “impossible to enforce”.
Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden consulted with European allies, France, Germany, Italy and Britain on Monday, to discuss sanctions plans and seek a strong allied position in favor of it. territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would remain in close contact, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated approach. and global, ”the White House said.
International tensions have continued to rise in Ukraine and the Black Sea region. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that it had sent fighter jets to escort two US military reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea.