Dec 3, 2021: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin are due to hold talks “in the near future” when their top diplomats made no clear progress in Stockholm to end the standoff over Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, chose not to appear together after a 40-minute meeting over trade threats.
“We had a very direct, very candid, non-polemical exchange of views,” Blinken said afterwards. “It was serious; it was sober. I believe that the foreign minister will take the conversation back to president Putin. I’m going to do the same, of course, with president Biden. And I think it’s likely the presidents will speak directly in the near future.”
The United States has threatened to deploy “high-impact economic measures” if Russia’s deployment of an estimated 100,000 troops leads to a major conflict with Ukraine. Moscow has said it feels threatened by NATO’s close ties with Kiev.
In a scathing statement after the talks, Russia’s Foreign Ministry threatened to “retaliate” if its interests were ignored. The ministry wrote, “Ignoring Russia’s legitimate concerns, the deployment of NATO forces near our borders will have serious consequences for Ukraine’s participation in the US geopolitical games, and will bring Moscow closer to retaliation to strike military and strategic balance.”
Blinken repeated the US warning about “serious consequences for Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including, high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past”.
“We’ve been, will continue to be, very clear about those consequences. I think Moscow knows very well the universe of what’s possible,” he said.
The talks came after Blinken told the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, that NATO had an “unwavering commitment … to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence”.
The talks, which took place on the sidelines of the OSCE ministerial meeting in Stockholm, are the highest-level talks between Russia and the United States since Putin and Joe Biden met in Geneva in June. Biden has also repeatedly sent his CIA director, William Burns, to Moscow to urge Russia not to launch new attacks on Ukraine.
Russia wants another presidential summit with the United States, in which Putin says he will demand assurances that NATO will limit support to Ukraine, a non-member of the security bloc. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia has no veto over Ukraine’s military alliance.
On Thursday, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said he hoped Biden and Putin would talk directly in the next few days.
In the event of a Russian military operation, US sanctions could target Russia’s new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, access to Swiftbank’s messaging system, or other sanctions against the Russian economy. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, sparking a war against Kiev in southeastern Ukraine that killed more than 13,000 people.
Blinken said diplomacy was the only way to resolve the crisis, he said, urging both Moscow and Kyiv to follow the 2015 Minsk deal that has looked close to collapse in recent months.
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