Ultimatums, counteroffers, security guarantees. All you need to know about today’s Russo-American talks
U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to have a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin on Dec. 30. They are expected to discuss the military escalation on Russia-Ukraine border, along with recent demands and ultimatums issued by Moscow, including a guarantee against a potential eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
President Biden accepted Putin’s proposal to have this phone call, a senior White House official briefed the press on Dec. 29.
NV has compiled this essential explainer, giving you a comprehensive overview of the imminent Washington-Moscow talks:
How and when will the two presidents speak?
In contrast to the last conversation Biden had with Putin over video on Dec. 7, this time they will speak by phone. CNN reports the phone call is set to take place at 1030 PM Kyiv time, on Thursday, Dec. 30 (330 PM Washington time, 1130 PM Moscow time).
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has confirmed that it would be be a “late night” phone call.
Who suggested the call?
The White House announced the phone call “at the request of the Russian side” on Dec. 29.
“President Biden believes there are no alternatives to direct engagement with foreign leaders, even more so when it comes to Russia and President Putin,” a White House official told the press. This is the first time this year the U.S. and Russian presidents are going to talk at the Kremlin’s request, he added.
“President Biden values and is always open to dialogue, especially when tensions are as high as they are now,” the White House spokesperson Jen Psaki replied to a question about what specific events made this phone call happen at such short notice, suggesting that “there is nothing out-of-the-ordinary or enigmatic behind this decision.”
What are they going to discuss, what’s the context?
The White House said Biden and Putin will touch on their official positions for the series of upcoming multilateral talks:
· Jan. 10 – Russo-American talks in Geneva, Switzerland (Biden and Putin will not attend).
· Jan. 12 – the Russia – NATO Council session.
· Jan. 13 – Russia – OSCE meeting.
Moscow intends to press on with demands for “security guarantees” against any further eastward expansion of NATO during all three of these meetings, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
The U.S. president is likely to reiterate that the world expects Putin to pull his troops away from Ukraine’s border and relieve rising regional tensions.
“We’re ready to discuss the concerns and reservations Russia has voiced. The United States, our allies and partners expect Moscow to do the same and engage with the concerns of our own,” the Wite House told the press.
Is Biden going to counter with an ultimatum of his own?
The United States is not going to respond to the Russian ultimatum by “publishing documents or treaty proposals, like the Russian side did,” said an official in the Biden administration. “We believe that the best results can be achieved through direct dialogue behind closed doors, in close communication with our allies and partners.”
Here are the points president Biden will communicate to Putin:
· Washington will continue to closely engage with its European allies and partners, pledging to never “discuss them without them” (both Brussels and Kyiv insisted on such an approach).
· The United States are open to exploring diplomatic solutions to the current crisis, but are also “ready to respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
· “Sanctions far beyond the scope of the ones that were imposed back in 2014” will be mustered by the United States and its allies, if there is further Russian aggression.
· A further escalation of Russian aggression against Ukraine will jeopardize European security, so in response plans to bolster NATO presence in eastern Europe will be set in motion.
· Washington will give Ukraine further assistance in defending itself against Russian invasion and aggression unless Moscow deescalates in the coming weeks.
· The United States is still open to discuss in good faith “strategic security concerns both sides may have, including, but not limited to, the ones that have been made public recently.”
· Russia remains free to take the path towards de-escalation that was clearly outlined by President Biden earlier.
The White House is ready to “convey quite a detailed list of issues to the Russian side” that are of concern to Washington and Europe, the spokesperson said, adding that “many of (these issues) are well-known to be integral to any discussion of European security and strategic stability.”
Are there any signs of easing tensions around Ukraine?
Not in any practical sense: the White House still sees “a major concentration of Russian armed forces around Ukraine’s borders.”
“President Biden keeps telling president Putin that meaningful de-escalation remains necessary for any kind of progress in improving the situation around security in Europe,” a Biden administration spokesperson said. “We can expect this to be reiterated once again during tomorrow’s (Dec. 30) phone call.”
When asked to clarify the dynamics of the military buildup on the Russia-Ukraine border, Psaki called the situation far from stable – “We are still very much concerned with the nature of this amassment of Russian troops and their military capabilities.”
How does the Biden administration view Ukraine’s own efforts to defuse these tensions?
The White House has “very productive discussions” with Ukraine on these matters and indicated that Kyiv is prepared to extend Moscow some proposals on how to “build mutual trust and good faith in the short term.”
Washington recognizes the efforts Ukraine makes to maintain the precarious ceasefire around the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts that are controlled by Russian proxies.
Additionally, the U.S. side commended “further attempts” by the Ukrainian government to improve security in the Donbas region and break the deadlock around implementing the provisions of the Minsk Protocol of 2014: “We saw a real commitment from the Ukrainian side to make tangible overtures towards de-escalation and building mutual trust.”
What does the United States expect from this phone call?
The Biden administration hopes that both sides will engage with reciprocity. “We can make real progress on some issues, even if we get stalled by our disagreements on the others – such is the nature of diplomacy,” the White House spokesperson said.
Washington assured that U.S. allies and partners will be fully briefed on the results of the phone call once it concludes, so that “we can discuss and coordinate our next moves.”
How is the United States going to inform Ukraine about the results of the phone call?
On Dec. 29, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to coordinate their mutual position ahead of the Biden-Putin talks.
Soon afterwards Biden speaks with his Russian counterpart, the U.S. president and Zelensky are likely to talk by phone, the White House told the press.
Since Ukraine is a member of OSCE, the ongoing crisis will be on the agenda of the Russia – OSCE meeting, which is slated for Jan. 13.
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