‘Moment of Crisis’ in Eastern Europe: Biden and Putin to Speak Again; Second Time in Three Weeks

By Patrick Goodenough | December 29, 2021 | 6:05pm EST
President Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last June. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images)
President Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last June. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – As a year marked by a late escalation in tensions between Moscow and the West draws to a close, Presidents Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak by phone on Thursday, amid the Kremlin’s stepped-up demands for an end to what it sees as threats posed by NATO.

“Russia has put its concerns on the table and we are prepared to discuss them,” a senior administration official said in a background briefing on the call. “The United States and our allies and partners will put our concerns on the table and expect Russia to be prepared to discuss them as well.”

The call, requested by Putin and their second in just over three weeks, will cover topics including “upcoming diplomatic engagements.”

According to the senior administration official, these will include bilateral strategic stability talks in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels, and a meeting of the Vienna-based permanent council of the 57-member Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – a grouping to which Russia, Ukraine, and the United States all belong.

All three meetings are scheduled to take place during the second week of January. The U.S. will be represented at the bilateral Geneva talks by representatives of the NSC and Departments of State and Defense.

Putin’s stated concerns deal primarily with NATO’s eastward expansion, and the presence of weaponry and the holding of military exercises on the territory of NATO’s “eastern flank” allies. Russia’s foreign ministry this month drew up two draft agreements between Russia and the U.S and NATO, outlining security guarantees that it wants from the West.

The West’s concerns focus on Russia’s ongoing intervention in Ukraine, its amassing of troops near Ukraine’s borders and fears of a potential further invasion, and its leveraging of energy supplies to Europe for political purposes.

“I think both leaders believe that there is genuine value in direct leader-to-leader engagement, that we are at a moment of crisis and have been for some weeks now, given the Russian buildup, and that it will take a high level of engagement to address this and to try to find a path of de-escalation,” the administration official said.

The U.S. has formulated its positions, but will not be issuing a draft document as the Russians have done.

“This dialogue should, and we expect will, proceed on the basis of reciprocity,” the official said. “There will be topics where we can make meaningful progress and topics where we will have differences. That’s in the nature of diplomacy.”

The official reiterated the administration position that nothing that affects Washington’s allies and partners in Europe will be discussed without the input of those allies and partners. 

“President Biden will make clear when he speaks with President Putin that we will continue to coordinate closely with our allies and partners on all of these matters. And we will proceed on the principle of ‘nothing about them without them.’”

As the administration has repeated several times in recent weeks, the official said the U.S. sought a “diplomatic path to deescalating tensions in the region,” but that a Russian invasion would attract unprecedentedly tough sanctions, further steps to fortify allies on NATO’s eastern flank, and the supply of additional defensive equipment to Ukraine.

In a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for his country’s “independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Blinken also consulted Wednesday with his British, French, and German counterparts.

The Russia-U.S. and Russia-NATO draft agreements drawn up by the Russian foreign ministry include a demand for an end to NATO’s enlargement, with Ukraine joining the alliance definitively ruled out.

They also call for an end to “any military activity” by NATO in Ukraine, the South Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as in “other states in the Eastern Europe.”

Russian officials from Putin down have warned that failure to resolve Moscow’s concerns could prompt a “military-technical” response.

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