US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agree that the principles of international law will play a key role in determining the course of their strained diplomatic relations. But statements released by the White House and the Kremlin projected divergent views on what transpired in bilateral talks Thursday over the latest Ukrainian border troop build-ups and ongoing strategic stability initiatives.
In early December, reports began to emerge that for the second time in 2021, some 100,000 Russian troops were amassing along the Ukrainian border, along with aviation and other military equipment. Kiev and Moscow have remained at a diplomatic disagreement since 2013-2014, when a revolution toppled friendly Kremlin leader Viktor Yanukovych and ushered in a new era of governance. The most recent troop build-up occurred against a backdrop of stalled bilateral talks between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Earlier this week, announcing that the appeal would take place, the White House noted that the Biden administration had engaged in extensive diplomacy with its European allies to develop a common approach to the Russian-Ukrainian border situation.
From a White House perspective, Biden took a hard line in calling on the latest Russian troop buildups, urging Putin to defuse tensions with Ukraine, and “made it clear that the United States and their allies and partners will react decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.The nature of the threat of retaliation has not been clarified in the United States’ statement; Allies have relied on a broad round of sanctions targeting Russian businesses and individuals to illustrate their dissatisfaction with policies such as the country’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Russian statement released after the phone call said that “Biden stressed … that Washington does not intend to deploy offensive strike weapons in Ukraine”, but mentioned the threat of “large-scale” sanctions.
From the Kremlin’s perspective, Putin appears to have taken the lead, urging Biden to launch negotiations on legally binding security guarantees as part of an ongoing strategic stability dialogue, and teaching the US president a lesson in principles. fundamentals of the relevant draft security treaties. “[Putin] stressed that the negotiations should produce strong legally binding guarantees excluding NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of weapons that threaten Russia in the immediate vicinity of its borders … [and] further stressed that the security of a nation can only be ensured if the principle of indivisible security is strictly observed, ”according to the Russian press release.
Although both presidents appeared determined to project strength and control, they each nodded at each other’s accents as side issues in their own statements.
After highlighting US red lines, the White House noted that Biden also expressed his support for diplomacy and his willingness to engage in strategic security talks, while noting that “these dialogues can only take place in a de-escalation environment “.
Referring to Biden’s hard line on Ukraine, the Kremlin statement said: “Vladimir Putin has again given a comprehensive response to the mention by [Biden] the possibility of imposing “large-scale” sanctions in the event of an escalation of the situation around Ukraine. He suggested that this would be a serious mistake, de facto fraught with the danger of a complete breakdown of Russian-American relations.
Divergent interpretations of lessons learned aside, former Cold War adversaries are expected to continue strategic stability talks into the new year, with bilateral talks scheduled for Jan. 9-10 in Geneva.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile, tweeted a reminder that Ukraine’s contribution should feature in any geopolitical fishery involving the country. “As we have agreed with our strategic partner [the US], nothing about [Ukraine] without [Ukraine]. Looking forward to discussing again with [Biden] this Sunday to coordinate our steps in favor of peace in Ukraine and security in Europe ”, he said. wrote.