Blinken To Call Zelenskiy Before Biden-Putin Video Conference
By RFE/RL December 06, 2021
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy before U.S. President Biden's call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Biden will make a follow-up call to Zelenskiy after he speaks with Putin, a senior White House official said December 6.
Biden will make clear to Putin that there will be "very real costs" should Russia choose to proceed with military aggression against Ukraine, the official said in a background briefing call with reporters.
Biden and Putin are expected to discuss a buildup of Russian troops near Russia's border with Ukraine during their virtual meeting on December 7.
The United States already has held intensive discussions with European partners about collective plans in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine, "and we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the European and United States that would impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy," the official said.
In a separate move, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will convene a classified briefing on U.S.-Russia policy on December 6. The committee's classified briefing will be held in addition to two full committee hearings on U.S.-Russia policy and the future of United States policy on Taiwan, the committee said in a news release.
Meanwhile, Britain has said it wants Russia to de-escalate tensions along the Ukrainian border.
"You've seen the increasing deployment on the border and clearly we need to address that," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on December 6. "We think that Russia needs to step back and de-escalate the tensions there."
U.S. intelligence reports have suggested that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine as early as 2022. Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backs separatists in eastern Ukraine who have waged a bloody war against Kyiv that began the same year.
Moscow has demanded written guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO, calling such a scenario a "red line." The Kremlin has also expressed concerns about Western weapons supplies to Kyiv, as well as military drills in international waters of the Black Sea.
NATO and Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, have had friendly relations since the country gained its independence in the early 1990s. The two have deepened their cooperation since Russia's military actions in Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine adopted legislation in 2017 reiterating its aim to join NATO as a strategic objective. However, Zelenskiy this summer expressed frustration over the issue, calling on Biden to give Kyiv either a "yes" or "no" on mapping out a plan for Ukraine to enter the alliance.
The United States has provided more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, and both Washington and NATO have offered assurances of their unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
Regarding Moscow's ultimatums, Biden has said that he will not accept "anyone's red line."
Biden and Putin have met as presidents in person once, in Geneva in June. They last spoke by telephone in July.
With reporting by the BBC, AP, dpa, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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