WorldBiden threatens Putin with 'strong economic sanctions' if Russia increases pressure on...

Biden threatens Putin with ‘strong economic sanctions’ if Russia increases pressure on Ukraine

Joe Biden’s most tense video call in nearly 11 months at the White House ended with a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin: the United States prepares with its European allies “strong economic sanctions” in case Russia increases pressure on Ukraine. The meeting began this Tuesday after 10 am, Washington time (12 pm GMT), in a cordial atmosphere, with Putin on the other end of the line, at the end of a long wooden table in his residence in Sochi, the resort town on the coast of the Black Sea. In the background, tensions, in an increasingly fierce tone, between Moscow and Washington over the crisis on the border with Ukraine. Washington has information from its spy services that Putin is preparing a military operation with 175,000 troops for early 2022, which the Russian leader denies. Russia, for its part, demands assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO and will not launch an offensive to regain territory lost in 2014 in its confrontation in the Donbass region with pro-Russian separatists. The meeting lasted just over two hours.

The US president expressed to Putin deep concern about his attitude in this crisis, according to a White House spokesman, and demanded an “immediate reduction” of the conflict and “a return to diplomacy”. It reiterated its support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity”. Having ruled out the possibility of the US sending soldiers to the border, Biden warned of serious economic sanctions, which a top government official had already anticipated on Monday. These sanctions would include preventing major Russian banks from converting rubles into dollars and other currencies. Bloomberg agency reported, in turn, that initiatives aimed at the fundamentals of the Russian Direct Investment Fund are on the table, as well as restrictions on the ability of investors to buy Russian debt securities in the secondary market. It also contemplates strengthening NATO’s eastern flank if such an attack takes place on Ukrainian soil, according to the senior official, who remained anonymous. The relationship between the two powers has registered tension levels typical of the Cold War in recent days.

From the White House, the President of the United States, who expressed to Putin his desire for the next meeting to be “face to face”, coordinated the content of the warnings with his “key European allies” in a round of phone calls on Monday. afternoon, to the leaders of Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom (Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson). After the conversation with Putin, Biden plans to repeat these contacts to convey his conclusions to them.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also spoke on Monday afternoon to reach an agreement on positions for Tuesday’s video call. Both countries, Zelensky said on Twitter, will continue “to act together and in coordination”.

Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a long-standing aspiration of the country, dating back to the 2008 Bucharest Declaration. However, Russia considers that country to be part of its area of ​​influence. For that reason, Putin last week demanded “strong assurances” from Washington that NATO will not expand further east. The secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, warned on Sunday that his organization “remains vigilant” in the face of the Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border and that any aggression “will have consequences”.

However, Ukraine’s integration into NATO seems very remote. Alina Frolova, former Ukrainian deputy minister of Defense and director of the StratCom Strategic Communication Center in Ukraine, explains by telephone to EL PAÍS that “in Kiev there are no expectations about this, there has been no progress for a long time, even with the support of Stoltenberg”. Frolova does not believe, however, that the West has abandoned the intention. “The United States has sent arms and has shown its commitment. The UK too. It is not a question of the number of forces, but of a political manifestation”. According to this Ukrainian expert, the Russian warning “is a global threat, not just for Ukraine” and would thus seek “a major agreement, a distribution of areas of influence” between the powers.

Hours before the meeting between Biden and Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Putin would maintain his position with Biden on the Ukrainian war. “Without a doubt, we will emphasize our approaches to the need to force the Kiev regime to fulfill its obligations clearly written in the Minsk package of measures,” said Lavrov. “Kiev will listen to no one but the US,” added the Russian diplomat, insisting that the solution for Donbass is only a direct dialogue between the Ukrainian government and representatives of the so-called “people’s republics” of Lugansk and Donetsk, something that Kiev has always rejected because it considers that they are the puppets of what should be their direct interlocutor: the Kremlin.

The Minsk II agreements were signed on February 11, 2015 by Moscow, Kiev and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), with mediation from Germany and France. Unlike Minsk I, this pact was signed amid a major separatist offensive backed by Russian artillery and armored brigades that regained control of Donetsk airport and surrounded the Ukrainian army in Debaltsevo. The Ukrainian government, then led by Petro Poroshenko, accepted a constitutional reform to grant more autonomy to the region and recognize local elections if supervised by international observers in exchange for retaking control of the Donbass border with Russia. But nothing has been accomplished in these six years.

On a possible deployment of Russian troops in Donbass, Frolova insists that Moscow has so far not recognized the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, despite having handed over half a million Russian passports to its inhabitants, and that all its actions have been of covert nature, “like the sending of arms to Donbass, the recent migrant crisis in Belarus and the provocations in Crimea.” “But at the same time let us not forget that the war [de 2014] it started without giving credibility to the threats. Now there is the mobilization of troops in Crimea, on the borders, the declarations of the [presidente bielorrusso Aleksandr] Lukashenko… On the ground, the situation looks very serious”, he adds.

In the breakaway region of Donbass, there is also a lot of anxiety. One of its most popular commanders, Alexandr Jodakovski, told the Telegram channel where he publishes his reflections that “we have moved from a local issue to NATO expansion and the red lines that Biden will not recognize. I mean, we go back to 2014, when we said this was a war between Russia and the West.”

There are all kinds of opinions about Putin’s move in Russia. Mikhail Kasyanov, prime minister during his first term and current leader of the liberal Parnas party, quoted on Twitter the so-called “nuclear package” of sanctions that Washington is preparing in case of conflict. “It will certainly stop him. There will be no war, or Russia will go back 30 years,” the politician said of measures that would put the Russian economy in a dead end at a time when its national currency continues to sink, at 74 rubles to the dollar (it was 35 before the war in 2014) and the Central Bank admits that it does not have the instruments to control an inflation that is dangerously close to double digits because its causes are supply problems that the entire planet suffers.

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