Biden, Putin talk for two hours about Ukraine, other topics amid war fears

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  • US considers drastic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine
  • Kremlin says it expects no breakthrough in talks
  • Everyone should keep a cool head, Putin spokesman
  • EU says ready to increase sanctions against Russia

WASHINGTON / MOSCOW, Dec. 7 (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday had two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes, as Westerners fear Moscow is on the point of invading its neighbor to the south.

Russian television footage showed Biden and Putin greeting each other in a friendly way at the start of what was to be a tense exchange. Biden told Putin he hopes their next meeting will be in person.

The White House released a statement saying talks have started, but did not display any visuals of the secure “situation room” where Biden was located.

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The two leaders spoke for two hours and one minute, according to the White House.

The Kremlin said it hoped the two leaders could hold an in-person summit to discuss what it described as the dismal state of US-Russian relations, which are at their lowest since the end of the Cold War. .

U.S. officials said ahead of the video conference that Biden would tell Putin that Russia and its banks could face the toughest economic sanctions to date if they attack Ukraine.

They said the sanctions, which a source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert rubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to deter Putin from using tens of thousands of massed soldiers. near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbor.

The Kremlin, which said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that it did not expect any breakthrough, denied plans to attack Ukraine and said its troops’ position was defensive.

But Moscow has expressed its growing annoyance at Western military aid to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has leaned towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and has done so. which she calls the creeping expansion of NATO.

Moscow has also questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to attempt to reclaim territory lost in 2014 to Russian-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We are looking for a good, predictable relationship with the United States. Russia never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” the spokesman said. of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov.

Leaders of Britain, America, France, Germany and Italy will hold a call at 6 p.m. GMT following the Biden-Putin talks, the White House and the office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have announced.

The same allies spoke on Monday and “agreed to stay in close contact on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” the White House said.

“A FRESH HEAD”

Russian President Vladimir Putin chats with US President Joe Biden via video link in Sochi, Russia, December 7, 2021. Sputnik / Mikhail Metzel / Pool via REUTERS

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Calling on everyone to keep a “cool head,” Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak out given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

The Russian ruble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would ease tensions and others saying the threat of US sanctions had eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic sanctions to be imposed if Russia launches an invasion, a senior official in the Biden administration has said.

A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle had been discussed but no decision had been made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and limiting the conversion of rubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

German Gref, managing director of Russia’s largest bank Sberbank (SBER.MM), on Tuesday called the idea “nonsense” and “impossible to execute”.

CNN has signaled that the sanctions could include the extreme step of disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world.

Bloomberg reported that the United States and its European allies are weighing measures targeting the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The United States could also restrict the ability of investors to buy Russian debt in the secondary market, Bloomberg said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Latvian Foreign Minister said in an interview in London on Tuesday that Moscow needed to know before acting what “the price to pay for the economy” would be, something which he said should extend to the pipeline Russian $ 11 billion Nord Stream 2 to Germany.

The White House declined to comment.

MORE EU ​​SANCTIONS?

European Union Director-General Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday offered Ukraine the EU’s full support and said the bloc would consider further sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine and the NATO powers accuse Russia of building up troops near the border, raising fears of a possible attack. Moscow denies any such plan and accuses Kiev of concentrating its own forces in its east, where Russia-backed separatists control much of Ukrainian territory.

The United States urged the two countries to return to a largely unimplemented set of agreements signed in 2014 and 2015, which aimed to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

“He (Biden) will make it clear that there will be very real costs if Russia chooses to move forward, but he will also indicate that there is an effective diplomatic path,” the senior administration said. Biden to reporters.

Putin has said he wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east and a commitment that certain types of weapons will not be deployed in countries close to Russia, including Ukraine. .

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Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Heather Timmons, Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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