Biden accepts ‘in principle’ meeting with Putin if Russia does not invade Ukraine: White House
Washington: President Joe Biden has accepted “in principle” a meeting with President Vladimir Putin provided Russia does not invade Ukraine, the White House has said, in a last-ditch diplomatic overture brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron to ease one of the worst security crises in Europe in decades.
The US has repeatedly warned of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine and threatened to impose tough sanctions on Moscow if it goes ahead with its plans. However, Russia has denied that it plans to attack Ukraine.
“As the President has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Sunday.
Psaki said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet later this week in Europe, provided Russia does not proceed with military action.
“President Biden accepted in principle a meeting with President Putin following that engagement, again, if an invasion hasn’t happened. We are always ready for diplomacy,” she said.
Psaki said that Biden spoke with Macron on Sunday and the two leaders discussed ongoing diplomacy and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s military buildup on the borders of Ukraine.
President Macron’s office in a statement on Sunday said that he spoke with Biden and Putin and proposed a summit to be held between the two leaders.
“Presidents Biden and Putin have both accepted the principle of such a summit,” the statement said, adding that the substance has to be prepared by Blinken and Lavrov during their meeting on February 24.
President Macron suggested there could be another summit with relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe, the statement said.
It stressed that the meeting can only be held on the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine.
Responding to the prospect of a meeting, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said a call or a meeting could be set up at any moment between Putin and Biden but it was premature to talk about the organisation of any such meeting at the moment, state-run news agency Sputnik reported.
“The meeting is possible if the heads of state consider it appropriate. Currently, there is a clear, concrete understanding of the need to continue the dialogue at foreign minister level,” he was quoted as saying.
According to US estimates, Russia has amassed over 150,000 in and near Ukraine, up from about 100,000 on January 30.
“We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon,” Psaki said.
The development comes after Blinken in an interview to CNN said that Biden is prepared to engage with Putin in any format, at any place and time to prevent a war.
Blinken asserted that everything leading up to the actual invasion of Ukraine appears to be taking place.
“As we have described it, everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place, all of these false flag operations, all of these provocations to create justifications. All of that is already in train,” Blinken told CNN.
“We believe President Putin has made the decision, but until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” he said.
“President Biden is prepared to engage President Putin at any time, in any format, if that can help prevent a war. I reached out to my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister (Sergey) Lavrov, to urge that we meet next week in Europe. The plan is still to do that, unless Russia invades in the meantime,” Blinken said in response to a question.
Putin has been demanding assurances that NATO will not admit Ukraine, a former Soviet state with close ties to Russia, while the Western alliance denies it poses any threat to Russia.
There are fears that a Russian military intervention could start a war even bloodier than the conflict in eastern Ukraine which has cost at least 14,000 lives.
Blinken has alleged that Russia is trying to create a series of provocations as justifications for aggression against Ukraine going forward.
He said that the US, with its European partners and allies, have prepared a massive package of sanctions against Russia in case of an invasion of Ukraine.
“The G7 countries in Munich came together, reiterated that there would be massive consequences for Russia if it pursues this aggression,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday categorically ruled out deployment of American troops in Ukraine and warned Moscow of punitive sanctions if its troops crossed over the border.
Referring to the nature of deployment of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, he said there is a significant amount of combat power moving very quickly now to take Kyiv.
On Friday, Russia announced nuclear drills, even as leaders of nations from the West looked for ways to ease the tensions.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday warned that it would be “catastrophic” if the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalated into a war, while underlining that there was “no alternative to diplomacy.”