Nato’s intentions in Eastern Europe are of great concern for President Putin, who in his virtual summit with President Biden stressed Russia “has the right to defend its security”. The two leaders on Tuesday spoke about Moscow’s increased troop presence along the country’s border with Ukraine and, though urging Mr Putin to “de-escalate”, Mr Biden hinted he is open to further discussing Moscow’s fears over a possible Nato membership for Ukraine.
In what was described by Politico as a “curveball”, President Biden said he would by Friday be in a position to announce plans for high-level talks “to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns” about the alliance.
The talks would be aimed at exploring “whether or not we can work out any accommodation as it relates to bringing down the temperature along the eastern front”.
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He also said: “The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now.”
Mr Biden, speaking about the “sacred obligation” to stand up for Nato allies “under Article 5” in the case of an attack, claimed: “That obligation does not extend … to Ukraine.”
Eastern European Nato members are thought to have reacted to the comments nervously, alarmed by the sense the White House’s commitment to Europe’s security may have subsided.
However, Mr Biden did emphasise during the two-hour call severe economic sanctions would be imposed should Russia invade Ukraine.
During the two presidents’ dialogue, Mr Putin did not explicitly rule out military action in Ukraine. When asked about Moscow’s intentions in Kyiv, he said: “Russia has a peaceful foreign policy, but has the right to defend its security.”
Underlining his concerns about Nato, he added: “We cannot but be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine’s possible admission to Nato because this will undoubtedly be followed by the deployment of appropriate military contingents, bases and weapons that threaten us.”
Mr Biden is speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday, along with the Bucharest Nine countries of Nato’s eastern edge.
Mr Zelenskiy said after the Biden-Putin video call: “In general, I think it is positive that the president of the United States spoke with the president of the Russian Federation.
“The most important thing that we see now is that there is a personal real reaction and personal role of President Biden in resolving this conflict, the war in the east of our state.”
Mr Zelenskiy, who won a landslide election in 2019 through the promise to end the conflict with Russia, is hopeful Mr Biden’s involvement in the row will help his government “find a way out” in three key issues: declaring a ceasefire, new prisoner exchanges and re-opening a checkpoint between Ukrainian and separatist-held territory.