Fears at Ukrainian border escalate as officials hold Biden-Putin meeting

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets during the 2021 US-Russia summit at Villa La Grange near Lake Geneva on June 16, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Uncertainty has surrounded the details of a much-vaunted meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin as fears grow that Russia could prepare to invade Ukraine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday she had no new details about a possible meeting between the two leaders, who last met in Switzerland this summer.

Psaki’s comments came after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday said preparations for a Putin-Biden summit were at an “advanced stage” but talks likely would not have held in person, the TASS news agency reported.

The Biden administration has more pressing concerns about Russia at the moment, with Psaki saying it remains “deeply concerned” by the heightened rhetoric around a reported Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border.

There have been reports of a build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border for weeks, raising widespread concerns that Russia is preparing to invade its neighbor, which was part of the Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991.

Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014 and has been accused of sending troops and weapons to support pro-Russian uprisings in two self-proclaimed republics in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine , although she denies it.

Now, many observers close to Russia believe Putin is planning to launch some sort of military action against Ukraine, given the troop movement and rhetoric outside of Moscow, but Russia denies such notions. Putin himself called them “alarmists”.

Prepare for the worst

NATO is also worried, however, with the Secretary General of the military alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, warning on Tuesday that NATO members should prepare for the worst when it comes to Russia and Ukraine.

“You can argue whether the probability of an incursion is 20% or 80%, it doesn’t matter. We have to prepare for the worst,” Stoltenberg told reporters after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, in Latvia.

“There is no certainty, no clarity on the exact intentions of Russia, and they may in fact evolve and change,” added the NATO chief, noting “that they have already done so” by reference to Crimea.

“We must get the message across to Russia that it must not conduct a military incursion into Ukraine. It has already done so. It continues to support the separatists in Donbass. And we must dissuade, send the message, that ‘they don’t have to do that And I hope they don’t. But like I said, we also have to be prepared for the other scenario, which is that Russia, once again, uses military force, ”he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss how to counter a Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border amid fears the Kremlin is preparing to invade, taken in Riga, Latvia on November 30, 2021.

Gints Ivuskans | AFP | Getty Images

Stoltenberg reiterated a warning to Russia that “any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia.” sanctions for its annexation of Crimea.

Although it aspires to become a member, Ukraine is not a member of either the EU or NATO, and NATO has no obligation to defend the country. As such, how far the US and the EU could go to defend the country is uncertain. Stoltenberg raised the issue on Tuesday, noting that it was “important to distinguish between NATO allies and partner Ukraine”.

Ukraine has reportedly urged NATO to prepare economic sanctions against Russia and strengthen military cooperation with Kiev. talks with his NATO counterparts in Riga on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Russia’s “red lines”

On the Russian side, Putin said that NATO countries which deploy weapons or troops in Ukraine will cross a “red line” for Moscow and could trigger a firm response.

Putin was asked about Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine as he spoke at VTB Capital’s investment conference on Tuesday.

He responded by saying that the red lines would “probably be threats emanating from this territory. [Ukraine] … if they station and deploy attack systems on Ukrainian soil, the flight time to Moscow would be 5 to 7 minutes … and we will have to respond with something similar, against those who threaten and we can do it, we are able. “

He said Russia was concerned about the military exercises he said were being carried out near Russian borders, saying they posed a threat to Moscow.

“The Russian Federation is to some extent concerned about the large military exercises being carried out near its borders, including in the Black Sea most recently, as strategic bombers flew only 20 kilometers from our border, armed with weapons of precision and potentially nuclear weapons, we would certainly view that as a threat to us, ”Putin said. He then complained about the expansion of NATO and military infrastructure, missile defense systems, which are positioned in Poland and Romania.

Russia said on Wednesday it had started regular winter military exercises in its southern military district, parts of which border Ukraine, and 10,000 troops had moved to training grounds across the region, Reuters reported.

Speaking to CNBC on Wednesday, Andrey Kostin, chairman and chairman of VTB bank, responded to reports of the build-up of troops on the Ukrainian border.

“Whatever movements we make inside the country, it is on our territory, whereas, for example, we have NATO ships, including American ships, which ply the Black Sea which is only 20 or 30 kilometers from the Russian border … We are living in conditions where a NATO missile could reach our territory in seven minutes, so we are under a much greater threat, according to us, whether NATO countries or America, ”he told CNBC’s“ Squawk Box Europe ”.

Noting the poor state of relations between Russia and the West, Kostin said the lack of confidence was “a great threat to Russia”, while hoping that relations could improve.

“We really believe that sooner or later relations will improve, we are awaiting an announcement on a possible meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden, so we expect there to be positive changes.”

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