Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

The US and its allies will “react decisively” should Russia invade Ukraine, President Joe Biden told his counterpart in Kiev as tensions over Moscow’s troops escalated.

Sunday’s call between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was the latest diplomatic attempt to allay growing tensions while Russia gather about 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s eastern border. Washington, Moscow and NATO member states will meet for talks in early January, when Russia intends to insist on “security guarantees” to curb the military alliance’s expansion into Europe.

During the conversation, Biden “reaffirmed” America’s commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, according to a statement by Jen Psaki, the White House’s press secretary.

After the exchange, Zelensky tweeted the leaders discussed “joint actions” by Ukraine, the US and partners “to preserve peace in Europe, to prevent further escalation, reforms, de-oligarisation”.

Biden’s message to Zelensky reflects a recent telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the US leader said America and its allies were prepared to respond “decisively” should Moscow invade Ukraine.

A day after the call with Putin, which was arranged at Moscow’s request on Thursday, Biden said: “I am not going to negotiate here in public, but we have made it clear that he [Putin] can not – I stress – can move on Ukraine ”.

Although the Russian leader has previously denied any plans to invade Ukraine, he said last month that he was prepared to use “appropriate military-technical measures” and “react harshly to hostile steps” would Kiev and its western supporters Moscow ignore “red lines”.

Russian forces forcibly seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 after a pro-democracy movement ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich. An armed uprising broke out a month later in Ukraine’s two easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, with Russian-led forces taking over parts of the territory.

More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict and about 1.5 million people have been displaced – the biggest European displacement crisis since the Balkan wars, according to the International Organization for Migration.

About 7 percent of Ukrainian territory has remained under the control of Russia or its proxies since 2014.

Moscow has denied involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which has been going on for eight years and has escalated in recent months. Civilians have joined training camps to prepare to support the Ukrainian army in case of war.

Following the call between Biden and Putin, a senior US administration official said the tone of the conversation was “serious and substantive”, with both leaders acknowledging the possibility of “significant progress” in some areas but also others where “agreement impossible” can be” .

Russian Presidential Assistant Yury Ushakov said at the time that the Kremlin was “satisfied” with the conversation with Biden and called it “sincere, substantive”. [and] specifically ”, according to Interfax.

Russia’s threat of military power has sparked debate in Finland on whether the Nordic country should join NATO, a step that will challenge Russia’s demands to curb the growth of the military alliance in Europe.

In their New Year’s speeches, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin emphasized that the country retains the option of seeking NATO membership at any time.

The leaders’ phone calls also come amid controversy over Russia’s role in Europe’s rising gas prices. Some European officials have accused Russian gas giant Gazprom of withholding additional volumes as it aims to launch the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe, whose approval is being delayed by German regulators.

Gazprom insisted it was meeting all its contractual obligations to supply gas to Europe and said the record prices had killed demand for spot sales.

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