Putin-Biden Discussion Brings No Substantial Changes To The Ukraine Crisis

As expected, yesterday’s video call between Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden yielded nothing tangible on Ukraine or the continuing Russian military buildup near the border. Putin entered the discussion seeking US assurances that NATO expansion will not include Ukraine. He did not receive this. When all was said and done, however, both leaders did agree to appoint envoys who will continue talks on European security issues. Biden warned Putin that a Russian military offensive against Ukraine will bring on economic sanctions that will do more damage than those of 2014. Putin pointed out that Russian forces are operating on their own territory and do not represent a threat to any neighboring nations.

Aside from economic sanctions, Biden informed Putin that an invasion will also result in the US providing military equipment to Kiev and additional US and NATO military forces will move into Poland and the Baltics to deter future Russian designs on those NATO member-states. The NordStream-2 pipeline was also tossed on the table as a potential bargaining chip. If Russia invades Ukraine, the US hinted that the pipeline will be suspended. Germany’s position is unknown and seeing how essential Berlin regards NordStream-2, the matter will be the first test for Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz.  

Ukraine is growing more anxious in the aftermath of the meeting. Military officials in Kiev have accused Russia of moving tanks and snipers into eastern Ukraine to provoke engagements with Ukrainian forces. These engagements will run the risk of handing Russia a pretext for military action.

The ball remains in Putin’s court. Even though he walked away from the discussion without a guarantee about Ukraine being excluded from future NATO expansion, the Russian leader did manage to get a feel for how far US and NATO support for Kiev will reach. More significantly, Biden failed to present a strong enough case to dissuade Putin from moving forward on his designs for Ukraine. Russian action still appears to be a certainty at some point in the coming weeks. What remains to be seen is the form it will take and how rapidly Moscow can achieve its objectives before the West reacts effectively.

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