Kremlin: Putin Reiterated Demand on NATO Eastward Expansion During His Call With Biden

By Dimitri Simes | December 8, 2021 | 4:04pm EST
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Ukraine hopes to become a member of the transatlantic alliance. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Ukraine hopes to become a member of the transatlantic alliance. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin during Tuesday’s virtual meeting with President Biden reiterated his demand for “reliable, legally binding guaranties” against further NATO expansion to the east, according to the Kremlin.

In what it described as a “frank and business-like” conversation, the Kremlin said the two leaders had a lengthy conversation about recent Russian troop movements near Ukraine.

Biden had warned that the U.S. would impose new sanctions against Moscow “should the situation escalate any further” while Putin had laid down Moscow’s stance on NATO enlargement.

The statement said Biden and Putin had “agreed to instruct their representatives to engage in meaningful consultations on these sensitive matters.”

According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, Biden did not raise the issue of the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Putin.

When he briefed reporters in Washington on the virtual meeting, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was asked if Biden had made “any kind of concessions” to Putin regarding Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.

He said Biden had “made no such commitments or concessions. He stands by the proposition that countries should be able to freely choose who they associate with.”

Sullivan in that briefing also linked the prospect of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 to Russia’s future actions, saying that “if Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine.”

Putin said during a joint press conference with the Greek prime minister on Wednesday that Russia and the U.S. had agreed to form a new “joint structure” for managing security issues such as Ukraine.

Moscow would send its proposals on  the structure within the next week, he said, but offered no further details.

The Kremlin said Biden and Putin also discussed cybersecurity, the recent expulsion of diplomats by both sides, and the Iran nuclear talks.

Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, said the Putin-Biden meeting gave reason for “cautious optimism” despite the absence of a clear resolution to the current standoff over Ukraine.

“Of course, no one expects miracles,” he wrote in a social media post. “There are too many sharp contradictions, which have been accumulating for too long.”

Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of Russia’s Federation Council – the upper house – suggested that Biden needed a meeting with Putin mainly for domestic political reasons.

“The logic of U.S. President Biden is understandable: He currently has the unflattering status of a president who has lost the war (in Afghanistan), and now he desperately needs the status of a president who has prevented the war,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Tuesday’s video call took place after months of growing tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.

The U.S. and Ukraine have accused Russia of amassing up to 94,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, raising fears that Moscow could be preparing to launch an invasion in early 2022.

The Biden administration has warned Russia that an invasion would trigger new U.S. sanctions.

Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told a Ukrainian audience last week that if Russian forces crossed the border, Washington would respond with “high impact economic measures the likes of which we have not used before.”

According to CNN, one of the options being explored is disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system, which would make it more difficult for Russian banks to make cross-border financial transactions.

The Kremlin denies planning to invade Ukraine and instead blames Kyiv for exacerbating tensions, accusing the Ukrainian government of moving 125,000 troops to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Senior Russian officials have also repeatedly denounced the U.S. and NATO allies for providing military aid to Ukraine, conducting naval exercises in the Black Sea, and allegedly flying strategic nuclear bombers near Russia’s borders.

Putin has warned the deployment of NATO troops or equipment to Ukraine would cross a “red-line” for Russia and trigger a strong response. The Kremlin has also called for “legal guarantees” from the West that NATO would not pursue further eastern expansion or place weapon systems “that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory.”

Moscow has long regarded NATO expansion to the east as a threat to its national security and argues that it violated purported assurances given to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the final stages of the Cold War.

Since 1999, 14 countries formerly under communist domination joined the alliance. NATO raised the prospect of extending membership to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, but has yet to follow through on that offer due to Russian opposition and disagreements among existing alliance members.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg last week reiterated the alliance’s stance that Russia “has no veto” over Ukraine’s membership aspirations.

“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden told reporters on Friday, in response to a question about Putin’s stance on Ukraine and NATO.

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