US President Joe Biden told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to ease tensions with neighboring Ukraine on Tuesday and join a reconstruction against a build-up of troops along their border that has raised concerns among NATO allies.
As a new report from the US intelligence service said that Russia did not seek direct conflict with the United States, the White House revealed that Biden had spoken by telephone with Putin to propose a summit between the two leaders in a neutral place.
The Kremlin said the two men had agreed to “continue the dialogue” without saying whether Putin had agreed on what would be their first meeting since Biden came to power.
Russia’s build-up on the Ukrainian border has caused growing unrest in the West in recent days, with the United States saying troop levels are at their highest since 2014, when war first broke out with separate units from Moscow.
Biden “expressed our concern over the sudden Russian military build – up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders and called on Russia to step down tensions,” the White House said after the phone call.
“President Biden reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia in line with US interests and proposed a third country summit in the coming months,” it said in a statement.
President Biden spoke today with President Putin and made the United States’ decision to defend our national interests and expressed our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
– White House (@WhiteHouse) April 13, 2021
In its reading of the conversation, the Kremlin said that “both sides expressed their readiness to continue the dialogue on key areas to ensure global security.”
The Kremlin confirmed that the US president had proposed what would be the leaders’ first summit since Biden took office and promised a tougher line against Russia, including because of its alleged involvement in the US election and harsh treatment of the sick opposition leader Alexei Navalny. .
Putin also held a summit in Finland in 2018 with then-US President Donald Trump, which caused a stir at home by seeming to accept the Russian leader’s denials of election mixture.
The Biden-Putin call came when Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met in Brussels with top NATO officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of the Transatlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg.
“Russia’s significant military build-up is unjustified, unexplained and deeply worrying – Russia must end this military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and they will escalate immediately,” Stoltenberg said in a meeting with Kuleba.
‘We are vigilant’
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu denied that Moscow had subjected troops to its western borders to “combat training exercises” in response to NATO military moves.
“In response to the alliance’s military activities threatening Russia, we have taken appropriate action,” Shoigu said in television remarks, adding that the exercises would be completed within two weeks.
Ukraine – which applied to join NATO in 2008 – is pushing Western powers for “practical” support as it seeks to deter any new aggression from Moscow.
“Russia will not be able to capture anyone surprising anymore. Ukraine and our friends will remain vigilant,” Kuleba said when he met Stoltenberg and Blinken.
Blinken insisted “the United States stands strongly behind Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and said that the country’s “Euro-Atlantic ambitions” would be discussed in the alliance.
Some NATO members are still deeply reluctant to listen to Ukraine’s call to speed up its entry in order to try to avoid straining tensions.
In a new report released on Tuesday, the director of the US National Intelligence Service said that Russia would “continue its destabilization efforts against Ukraine” while concluding that “it does not want a direct conflict” with the United States.
The Kremlin has warned NATO against further involvement in Ukraine and on Tuesday accused the allies of turning the country into a “powder keg”.
“Of course, if there is any deterioration, we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our citizens, wherever they are,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
“But Kiev and its allies in the West will be fully responsible for the consequences of a hypothetical aggravation.”
The troop build-up comes amid a rise in violence along the front lines between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the east.
The Ukrainian military said one of its soldiers was killed on Tuesday when a drone dropped grenades at its position, killing 29 people this year in Kiev.
The fighting slowed in 2020 when a ceasefire agreement took off in July last year, but clashes have been gaining momentum since the beginning of the year, with each side blaming the other.
Analysts say NATO allies are not willing to engage their forces in a conflict with Moscow over Ukraine, but can strengthen other forms of aid.
“NATO members will not send any boots to the ground in Ukraine,” said Bruno Lete, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in the US think tank.
“Their support will be limited to political communications, military advice and technical assistance.”
But in a clear sign that Washington wants to strengthen its military support for European allies, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that it is sending about 500 new personnel to Germany.