Russian President Vladimir Putin told his US counterpart Joe Biden that any sanctions against Ukraine would be a big mistake, a Kremlin assistant said on Thursday after the two leaders spoke by telephone before lower-level talks next month.
The call, which according to US officials started at 15:35 (20:35 GMT) and lasted 50 minutes, came amid weeks of Western concern on Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine.
Yuri Ushakov, the Kremlin’s assistant, said Russia was satisfied with the talks, which he said focused on security. guarantees what Moscow wants from the West, but that any major sanctions against Russia would be “a colossal mistake”.
“We do not hope this will happen,” Ushakov told reporters after the phone call.
This was the second time that Putin and Biden direct discussions held this month, as Russia’s military build-up continues to arouse fears that Russia may be preparing for an impending invasion of its neighbor.
In a statement describing Thursday’s talks, the White House said Biden had encouraged Putin to “de-escalate” the simmering tensions and “made it clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively to Russia and Ukraine. invade”.
The Kremlin has denied plans to invade Ukraine, accusing Western nations of undermining the security situation in the region by expanding NATO and Ukraine’s growing ties with the alliance.
Prior to the discussion, both sides insisted that they were ready to listen. But with Thursday’s talks paving the way for lower-level, face-to-face negotiations in Geneva in January, there were few indications of major concessions on the horizon.
During his call with Putin, Biden expressed support for the forthcoming talks, the White House also said, and “reiterated that substantial progress in these talks can only take place in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation”.
Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera that both the US and Russia “should be seen to be making the effort” amid the tension.
“This is an opportunity for Putin to achieve some victory, to show that the West may bend a little – if he can turn it that way,” Greene said. “For the Biden administration … and the European allies, it is extremely important to really do everything they can – except to make concessions that they cannot make – to ensure peace and security in and around Ukraine.”
Talks next month
Earlier this month, the Russian government published draft security pacts demands that NATO refuse membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the deployment of troops and weapons in Central and Eastern Europe.
But the US and its NATO allies have said only members of the alliance can decide when other nations join, stressing that any security talks with Moscow should take NATO’s concerns into account and involve Ukraine and other partners.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said this week that Russian diplomats and military officials would participate in talks with the US next month on the list of security guarantees that Moscow wants from Washington.
Those talks in Geneva will take place on January 10, while Moscow and NATO representatives are expected to meet on January 12. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia and the US, will raise tensions the next day.
Russia’s delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and the US delegation by Deputy Foreign Minister Wendy Sherman.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Antony Blink reiterated US “unwavering support” for Ukraine in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the State Department said.
The United Kingdom warned Russia said last week that any invasion of Ukraine “would be a massive strategic mistake and would be greeted with force, including coordinated sanctions with our allies to impose a serious cost on Russia’s interests and economy”.
Putin said Russia does not seek war with its neighbor, but wanted an “immediate” response from the US and its allies to its demand for security guarantees.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and shortly thereafter supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east, dropping relations between Moscow and the West to lows after the Cold War.
The fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, has so far killed more than 14,000 people, according to Kiev.