(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of a scheduled video call between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin says Putin will seek written guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastward.
But Biden, asked about Russia’s “red line on Ukraine,” replied, “I don’t accept anybody’s red line.”
Amid deepening concerns about Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, Biden also said Friday that the U.S. was putting together what he believed would be “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned in Europe last week that the U.S. could put in place against Moscow “things that we have refrained from doing in the past,” alluding to even tougher economic measures that those taken thus far in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, cyber-attacks, election interference, and attempted assassinations in Europe.
The two sides are drawing battle lines ahead of Tuesday’s call. Biden said as he left Washington for Camp David on Friday night that he expected to have “a long discussion” with Putin about Russia’s actions regarding Ukraine.
The Washington Post reported Friday on U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia plans to deploy 175,000 troops along the Ukraine border by early 2022. Current U.S. military estimates are that as many as 100,000 personnel have been moved to the area.
Russia denies it plans to invade, while becoming increasingly vocal about its objections to NATO military exercises near its territory and its opposition to Ukraine joining the alliance.
Putin complained again recently that Western nations were not taking seriously Russia’s warnings about its “red lines,” and had “absolutely ignored” Moscow’s warnings about the risks of NATO’s enlargement.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s call, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov predicted Putin would discuss with Biden legal measures to prevent further eastward NATO enlargement.
“This is our proposal on the need to hold joint work with colleagues, with leading countries on reaching corresponding legal accords that would rule out any further eastward expansion by NATO and the deployment of weapon systems that directly threaten us on the territory of states bordering on Russia, including Ukraine,” Ushakov told reporters in Moscow.
Moscow urgently needed legal assurances on NATO expansion, he said, charging that the West’s past “verbal assurances that NATO’s military structures would not advance eastward” had proven to be “worthless.”
“Given the current tense situation, there is an urgent need for us to be provided with appropriate guarantees, as it cannot go on like this,” Ushakov said. “It is hard to say what form this document will take, the main thing is that they must be written agreements.”
Between 1999 and last year, 14 countries formerly under communist domination – in eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Balkans – have joined the transatlantic alliance in successive rounds of enlargement.
The Kremlin’s bitter opposition to the expansion of NATO even deeper into its “sphere of influence” was a key factor in its military intervention in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
Since 2008, Georgia and Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO have been held up by a lack of consensus among existing allies, with opposition coming from countries like Germany that don’t want to antagonize Russia, a key energy supplier.
NATO repeatedly has reaffirmed that the two hopefuls will join someday, while insisting – again in just the past few days – that Russia has no “veto” over the process.
Blinken said in Europe last week that NATO enlargement does not threaten Russian security because the western alliance was “defensive,” “transparent,” and “not directed against Russia.”
“And in fact, unfortunately, the only aggressive actions that we’ve seen in the Euro-Atlantic area in recent years have been Russian aggression against Georgia and then against Ukraine,” he said.
While Ukraine is a “partner” to NATO, as a non-member it does not fall under the alliance’s “article five” security guarantees – a point underscored last week by NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg
As such, the U.S. and other NATO allies are not committed to come to its defense if attacked.
In the light of that, Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin was asked at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, “What happens if Putin does invade Ukraine? What does the U.S. do?”
Declining to “speculate on different scenarios,” Austin pointed to what Biden has said, and added, “We’re certainly committed to ensuring that Ukraine has what it needs to protect its sovereign territory.”
Austin said the U.S. has provided Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal assistance over the years and would “continue to look for different ways to help them be able to support their sovereign territory.”
Concerning Tuesday’s presidential call, Austin said Biden knows Putin “very well” and added, “I think there’s a lot of space here for diplomacy and leadership to work.”
“And again, we’re going to remain engaged with our allies in the region and our partners in the region,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to do everything we can to help provide Ukraine the capability to protect the sovereign territory.”