Combo photo of U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Xinhua)
by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met online on Tuesday on a range of bilateral issues as well as the Ukrainian crisis and Iran nuclear deal.
During the two-hour virtual talks, Biden "voiced the deep concerns" of U.S. allies over what he called Russia's escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the United States and its allies would "respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation," the White House said in a readout after the meeting.
Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation of tensions and a return to diplomacy, it said.
"The two presidents tasked their teams to follow up and the U.S. will do so in close coordination with allies and partners," said the White House.
The two leaders also discussed the U.S.-Russia dialogue on Strategic Stability, ransomware and Iran, the White House said.
The Kremlin said in a statement that the talks mainly focused on the internal crisis in Ukraine during their second talks in six months.
Putin, using specific examples, explained to Biden "the destructive policy" of Ukrainian authorities and expressed his "serious concern about Kiev's provocative actions against Donbass."
Putin stressed that it is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that is making dangerous attempts to "conquer Ukrainian territory" and is building up its military potential near Russia's borders.
Putin asked Biden for the guarantee that NATO will not expand in the eastern direction and not deploy offensive weapons near Russia.
To create conditions for mending bilateral ties, Putin offered Biden to lift all the accumulated restrictions on the functioning of Russian and U.S. diplomatic missions.
The virtual meeting occurred amid heightened tensions in many areas between Washington and Moscow.
The two leaders held their first face-to-face meetings during a summit in Geneva in June and spoke via phone in July.
"We shouldn't expect any breakthroughs from this conversation. This is a working conversation taking place at a very difficult moment. The escalation of tensions in Europe is unprecedented," Interfax quoted Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying at a press briefing.
Prior to the meeting, U.S. officials said they had put together a spate of sanctions that Washington would slap on Moscow, if Russia were to invade Ukraine. The package would harm Russia's economy in a bid to deter any future Russian military moves on its neighbor.
However, Russia has rejected the U.S. claim. Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin told a Russian TV program on Nov. 27 that the allegation was "malicious propaganda" by the U.S. Department of State, which was aimed at pushing Kiev to escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Naryshkin told a Russian TV program.
Experts said Russia has major leverage over the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline that runs through Northern Europe into Germany, after the Biden administration earlier this year lifted sanctions on a company behind the massive energy project. Germany and Russia said the pipeline is simply commercial.
Should the United States slap additional sanctions on Russia, their deterrent effect could depend on their scope, William Courtney, a retired U.S. ambassador and now an adjunct senior fellow of U.S. nonprofit global think tank RAND Corporation, told Xinhua.
"I hope the two leaders can open up a meaningful new dialogue about security structures for Eastern Europe that would help protect Ukraine and Georgia without NATO membership, and with Russian cooperation. That is what is needed. But it would take courage and creativity to pursue it," said Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon.
"A modest detente for the next years or so might be the best outcome, considering the rigidities on both sides," said Douglas Paal, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Enditem
(Xinhua correspondents Yang Shilong in Washington and Shi Hao in Moscow also contributed to the story.)