Biden warns Putin of sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine

Published December 8, 2021
PRESIDENTS Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin at the video summit.—AFP
PRESIDENTS Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin at the video summit.—AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday the West was concerned Moscow would invade Ukraine and warned of “strong economic and other measures” as punishment should it start a military conflict, the White House said.

The two leaders held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes in a video call about US-Russian relations, which have sunk to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday’s meeting that it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and has said its troop posture is defensive.

Biden voiced the “deep concerns of the United States and our European allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine”, the White House said, and “made clear that the US and our allies will respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation”.

Biden reiterated US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the White House said, and called for de-escalation and diplomacy. Putin and Biden agreed to have their teams follow up.

Russian TV footage showed Biden and Putin greeting each other in a friendly manner at the start of the virtual summit. The two leaders talked for almost two hours, according to the White House.

Both sides say they hope the two leaders can hold an in-person summit to discuss ties between the two nations, which have long-standing differences over Syria, US economic sanctions and alleged Russian cyber attacks on US companies. The Russian government issued a terse statement after the call. “Talks between Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Joseph Biden took place via videoconference,” it said.

US officials said before the conference that Biden would tell Putin that Russia and its banks could be hit with the toughest sanctions yet if it attacks Ukraine.

Sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, are designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping Nato expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov before the talks.

Washington has accused Russia of massing troops near the border with Ukraine to intimidate an aspiring Nato member, suggesting it could be a repeat of Moscow’s 2014 playbook, when it seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine.

For Moscow, the growing Nato embrace of a neighbouring former Soviet republic _ and what it sees as the nightmare possibility of alliance missiles in Ukraine targeted against Russia _ is a “red line” it will not allow to be crossed.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2021

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