The U.S. and Ukrainian presidents meet three days after Washington and Moscow set forth their red lines for negotiations.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, has promised Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Washington and its partners will defend Kyiv if the conflict with Russia escalates. The two leaders held a telephone conversation late on Sunday, just three days after the U.S. president and Vladimir Putin drew the red lines for the key negotiations that will take place in January on Ukraine and international stability in general. “President Biden made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” explained the White House in a statement. That “further” emphasizes that it would not be a new attack, but an escalation of the invasion that began in 2014 in Donbass and Crimea. Washington was also firm in its support for Kyiv, stating that it will defend Kyiv against Moscow in three ways: through dialogue for strategic stability; before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which currently acts as a mediator in the Donbass region war; and in the negotiations that will be held by both powers through the NATO-Russia Council, despite the fact that Putin has insisted in recent months that Kyiv is part of his sphere of influence, not of the Atlantic Alliance.
In his talk with Putin last Thursday, Biden warned him that the West will impose unprecedented sanctions on Russia if there is an escalation against Ukraine. “The first international talk of the year with @POTUS proves the special nature of our relations,” as Zelenskyy posted on Twitter. “Joint actions of Ukraine, United States and partners in keeping peace in Europe, preventing further escalation, reforms, deoligarchization were discussed,” added the president.
The crisis returned in November with the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian military personnel near the border with Ukraine. Early last year there was another similar escalation in Donbass, which calmed down after a meeting in June between Biden and Putin. However, last autumn U.S. intelligence services reported a new massive presence of troops and artillery along the entire border that could be ready to launch an invasion on three fronts: Crimea, the east of the country and the border area with Belarus, whose regime caused another crisis with Poland by sending thousands of immigrants from the Middle East to the border.
Putin and Biden spoke again in a video call on Dec. 7. In that conversation, the Russian president insisted on his non-negotiable points, among them that NATO should not expand further east, and proposed negotiating some safety guarantees for Russia. And on Dec. 21 in a meeting at the Defense Ministry, Putin stated his great concern that, according to reports, the United States was about to develop hypersonic weapons, like the Russian ones, that it may use as a “cover … to arm extremists from a neighboring state and incite them against certain regions of the Russian Federation, such as Crimea.”
Zelenskyy spoke explicitly in his New Year’s speech about the peninsula — which was annexed by Russia in March 2021 through the deployment of non-identified soldiers, known as “polite people” — and about Donbass — at war with Kyiv since April of 2014, with the military and financial support of Moscow. “And right behind them are all our military men. I believe it will be a photo from peaceful Donetsk, Lugansk, Crimea,” claimed the president.
A few days earlier, in a meeting with foreign diplomats, Zelenskyy stressed that he hopes to specify a time frame for Ukraine’s integration into NATO this year. Both that country and Georgia received that promise at NATO’s 2008 North Atlantic Council meeting in Bucharest. However, the guarantees of stability demanded by the Kremlin specify that the organization must renounce its expansion into eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, territories that Moscow considers to be under its sphere of influence, but that Washington contends are sovereign states, and therefore have their own right to decide. The White House statement on Biden’s conversation with Zelenskyy emphasized that Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”