Biden to confront Putin over Ukrainian border troop rally

President Biden expressed cautious optimism after his June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that the next three to six months would reveal whether their frank face-to-face discussion in Geneva produced any progress.

“Did the things we agreed to sit down and try to sort out work out?” Are we – are we closer to an important strategic stability and progress talks? He said at the time.

Almost six months later, as the two leaders prepare to meet again via videoconference on Tuesday, cyber attacks from Russia appear to have slowed, but tensions are mounting over Russia’s continued troop build-up along its border with Ukraine.

Biden, who last spoke to Putin in July, will urge the Russian leader to defuse the conflict, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to speak in public.

“It will make it clear that there will be very real costs if Russia chooses to move forward, but it will also indicate that there is an effective diplomatic path,” the official said, noting the familiarity administration with the “Russian game guide” after its annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Biden was vice president. used to justify what was a pre-planned military attack. “

The official confirmed that the US intelligence services consider the mobilization of Russian forces “in accordance with planning [for] a military escalation, but that “we do not know if President Putin has made the decision” to follow up.

In this case, Putin’s military build-up could be largely aimed at attracting the attention of the West. The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin would ask Biden for binding guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO, the transatlantic defense pact under which an attack on one member country is seen as an attack on all.

Biden, who sought to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to NATO after President Trump called the alliance “obsolete” and threatened at one point to withdraw, is unlikely to offer these guarantees to Putin. In June, he said he told Putin of Washington’s “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” He then made this point by welcoming the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to the White House in August.

Biden, however, has not fully endorsed Ukraine’s admission to NATO and remains hesitant to take on the additional responsibility of securing the country’s defense. “It’s less about Biden personally than the United States and the broader public reluctance to serve as global policemen,” said Ian Bremmer, chairman of Eurasia Group, a global risk assessment firm. “There is a clear lack of interest in paying for NATO expansion.”

Biden spoke with key NATO allies on Monday to coordinate his message to Putin, according to the senior administration official. Above all, Bremmer said he believes the president “wants diplomacy to continue, and doesn’t want it to be interrupted or give the Russians a reason to believe that their only way to change their situation is to change the facts on the ground “.

NATO angered Putin by expanding its engagement with Ukraine, stepping up military ground training and air exercises around the Black Sea, while providing additional weapons systems from a member nation , Turkey, to potentially repel a Russian assault.

Although Bremmer insisted that a Russian invasion of Ukraine by uniformed troops is unlikely given the certainty of severe economic sanctions against Moscow, he said Putin could escalate the conflict in other more ways. subtle through cyber attacks or hybrid warfare.

“The Kremlin has a strong incentive to create ambiguity about what exactly it is doing,” Bremmer said. “We don’t know at all how the Americans would react to [hybrid warfare or armed conflict involving insurgents backed by Moscow]. The more Biden is able to explain it in that phone call, the better.

Ben Hodges, a retired three-star general who previously commanded US military forces in Europe, said Russia’s military build-up since April makes it impossible to rule out an invasion.

“It’s not inevitable, but all the pieces are in place,” said Hodges, who now holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

He said the Kremlin’s rhetoric on Ukraine appears designed to send a message to the West and its own people, to prepare them for military action.

“The language coming from the Kremlin is very specific and very threatening.”

The timing of Putin’s lobbying campaign makes sense, at a time when leverage is heightened.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had been Europe’s oldest leader and architect of the 2014 Minsk Protocol that ended the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region, has just resigned. And as winter begins, Putin has additional leverage over Europe through the supply of natural gas after the completion of the NordStream 2 pipeline.

“It’s the threat that they’ll turn it off if the West decides to act really hard,” Hodges said.

“European nations will be very reluctant to do anything when they see President Putin has his hand on the gas meter.”

Editor Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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