Biden to offer Putin diplomatic path on Ukraine

In a phone call with Putin scheduled for Thursday, Biden will say “we are prepared for diplomacy and for a diplomatic path forward,” the official told reporters, reports Asian Lite News

President Joe Biden will offer President Vladimir Putin a “diplomatic path” out of tensions around Ukraine but remains “gravely” concerned by Russian troop movements, a senior US administration official said Wednesday.

In a phone call with Putin scheduled for Thursday, Biden will say “we are prepared for diplomacy and for a diplomatic path forward,” the official told reporters.

“But we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine,” Biden will tell Putin, the official said, adding that “we continue to be gravely concerned” by Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.

The phone call is taking place at the request of the Kremlin, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The two leaders will discuss a range of issues ahead of intensive diplomacy next month that will see Russian officials meet with US counterparts in Geneva on January 10.

The Russians will then meet separately with NATO and the OSCE regional security body.

Despite the surge of diplomatic contacts, Washington considers that the Russians have to do more to reduce the threat level around Ukraine for significant progress to take place.

Russia deployed tens of thousands of combat troops to the border, prompting fears that the Kremlin is ready to order seizure of more Ukrainian territory.

Although this has not happened, the force is “not entirely static,” the official said and remains “a continuing source of great concern.”

Washington “would like to see a return of forces to their regular training areas.”

More broadly, the sabre rattling makes any deeper progress less likely, the official said.

“Getting to an end game, a diplomatic end game, getting to meaningful understanding between the US and Russia, NATO and Russia, Ukraine and Russia, that really only happens practically in an environment where we’re seeing deescalation,” the official said.

According to the official, there is no plan for another in-person Biden-Putin summit at the Geneva talks.

Biden will speak to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “soon,” although no date has been set, the official said.

During Thursday’s interaction, “President Biden will make clear that there is a diplomatic path to de-escalating tensions in the region if President Putin is interested in taking it,” a senior administration official, who did not want to be named, told reporters on a Wednesday briefing call.

The US and Russia are scheduled to hold a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue on January 10 in Geneva. However, Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin will not personally participate in those discussions in Geneva, the official said. A NATO-Russia Council meeting is scheduled for January 12 and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for January 13.

Russia has massed about 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, according to Ukraine and the West’s estimates. Ten thousand troops had begun returning to their bases after military exercises, Moscow announced on Saturday. However, most of these returning troops were not part of deployments at the border, as per reports.

Biden would tell Putin that the US and its allies were “prepared for diplomacy and for a diplomatic path forward, but we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine,” the official said.

Ukraine had proposed short-term confidence-building measures with Russia, including a recommitment to a 2020 ceasefire, the official said. The U.S was also “prepared to discuss security and strategic matters” that have been the topic of private and public discussion recently.

Russia had published, on December 17 a draft security agreement, in which it had proposed that NATO not accept Ukraine and former Soviet countries as members (a demand rejected by the West). It also suggested that NATO refrain from sending weapons and troops to countries that joined the alliance after May 1997, i.e., several former Soviet countries that are now independent.

The Biden administration has been consulting its European allies, including this week, U.S. officials have said in the run-up to Thursday’s call.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday and discussed the peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the U.S.’s imminent diplomatic engagements with Russia, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

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