Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow will send proposals to the United States within a week after agreeing with U.S. President Joe Biden to appoint envoys to continue talks on security across Europe, amid heightened tensions over a buildup of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine.
Speaking with reporters in Moscow a day after two hours of talks between Putin and Biden via video link, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the creation of envoys would be quick, though no date for direct talks between the two leaders had been set.
'The presidents agreed to appoint their representatives, who will very promptly begin a discussion of this complex, confrontational situation, a discussion of strategic security issues on the continent,' Peskov said on December 8.
During the December 7 meeting, Biden warned Putin that Russia would be hit with 'strong economic and other measures' as punishment should Moscow launch an offensive against Ukraine, according to the White House.
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The meeting -- the third direct set of talks between Putin and Biden since January -- came as already tense relations between Washington and Moscow are poised to plummet further over threats of a new potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.
In recent months, Putin and other Russian officials have said, with increasing bluntness, that the prospect of Ukraine ever joining NATO was a 'red line' that would be met with an unspecified response from Moscow.
Ukrainian officials have said as many as 90,000 Russian troops are deployed in regions near the Ukrainian border and on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.
Last weekend, unnamed U.S. officials told The Washington Post and other U.S. news media that Russia was poised to use up to 175,000 troops in a multifront offensive against Ukraine early next year.
The military buildup near Ukraine is one of the largest in years, setting off alarm bells in Ukraine and Western capitals.
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'President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European allies about Russia's escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,' the White House said.
Biden also made no 'commitments or concessions' on Putin's demands, the White House added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the Putin-Biden meeting 'positive,' with the victory for Kyiv lying in the fact that 'the United States has always supported Ukraine, our sovereignty and independence.'
'But the most important thing is that now we see a real and personal reaction from President Biden and his personal role in resolving the conflict,' he added. Zelenskiy is expected to hold talks with Biden on December 10.
The Kremlin said Putin told Biden that NATO was bolstering its military capabilities near Russia's borders and 'making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory.'
In his comments on December 8, he reiterated those concerns, stressing that NATO's eastward expansion was a 'very sensitive' issue for Russia.
'We cannot but be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine's possible admission to NATO, because this will undoubtedly be followed by the deployment of appropriate military contingents, bases, and weapons that threaten us,' he said.
Though Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and is unlikely to be for some years, Russia views the prospect of Kyiv joining the alliance as a threat, following NATO's expansion into former Soviet bloc states in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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It was unclear exactly what punishment the Biden administration was threatening to wield if Russia were to launch an attack on Ukraine. Some analysts have pointed to the possibility Russia could be cut off from the international system of financial payments known as SWIFT, a move that would devastate the Russian economy.
Another possible punitive measure would be a renewed effort to block Nord Stream 2, the Baltic Sea pipeline that will significantly increase Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe via Germany once it is approved by regulators.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration reached a deal with Germany that averted sanctions on the pipeline's operator, removing a major irritant in relations between the two allies. But in recent days German officials have warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine would put an end to the pipeline.
France on December 8 warned Moscow it would face 'strategic and massive consequences' if Russia attacked Ukraine, noting that in phone calls between five major Western allies -- France, Britain, Italy, Germany and the United States -- there was a 'determination that the sovereignty of Ukraine be respected.'
Ukraine has been fighting a war against Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since early 2014 that has killed more than 13,200 people. Russia asserts Kyiv is failing to meet its commitments under the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements aimed at putting an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
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After Biden and Putin met in Geneva in June, many experts hoped that the Ukraine conflict would inch toward resolution, as Washington and Moscow looked for ways to arrest the downward spiral in relations.
The two leaders also spoke by telephone in July, when Biden called on Putin to do more to crack down on ransomware and hacking attacks against the United States. Many of the leading ransomware groups either operate in, or originate from, Russia.
Biden has also dispatched other senior administration officials, including CIA Director Bill Burns and veteran Russian expert Victoria Nuland, now undersecretary of state for political affairs, to Moscow to try to mend fences.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036