Last Updated: February 21, 2022 – By RFE/RL
WASHINGTON — The chances of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were thrown into doubt on February 21 after the Kremlin said talk of such a summit was “premature,” but Russia’s top diplomat later said he would travel to France to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, Western leaders – while continuing to push for diplomacy — warned again on February 21 that a Russian invasion of Ukraine appeared to be imminent, with the Kremlin massing more than 150,000 troops along the two countries’ border.
The latest developments made for another day of ups and downs as threats and allegations were mixed with hopes that diplomatic activity could head off a major war in Europe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said alongside Putin at a televised meeting of the Russian Security Council that he had accepted a French invitation to visit Paris on February 25 and that a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian would include “preparatory consultations” ahead of a possible Putin-Biden summit.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on February 20 that Biden had tentatively agreed to a summit with Putin in the coming days as he seeks to deter the Kremlin leader from invading Ukraine.
The White House stressed that such a meeting would only take place if Russia did not attack Ukraine and would follow February 24 talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — also only to be held “if an invasion hasn’t happened.”
The idea of a bilateral meeting was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke separately to both leaders on February 20.
No date or location was announced for a summit. Biden and Putin met for the first time as the respective heads of their nations in June in Geneva. That summit was prompted by a smaller Russian military buildup near Ukraine in the spring.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on February 21 that the two leaders could meet if they consider it necessary, but he added that “it’s premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.”
“The meeting is possible if the leaders consider it feasible,” he said, adding that there were no “concrete plans” in place for one at this time.
Nikola Patrushev, who heads the Russian Security Council, told Putin at the televised meeting of that council on February 21 that the only meaningful interlocutor in the West is the United States and suggested that other countries will do what Washington says.
Some analysts have suggested that Putin’s longer-term intentions are to divide and disrupt NATO, and Patrushev’s statements appeared aimed at stoking potential rivalries within the alliance.
However, echoing years of accusations from Moscow of Western “Russophobia,” Patrushev alleged that the West was working to bring about the breakup of Russia.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba early on February 21 had welcomed Macron’s initiative and said he hoped it would lead to a withdrawal of Russian forces menacing his country.
“We welcome this initiative. We believe that every effort aimed at a diplomatic solution is worth trying,” Kuleba said prior to a meeting with EU counterparts in Brussels.
“We hope that the two presidents will walk out from the room with an agreement about Russia withdrawing its forces from Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, insisted, though that any summit should include Ukrainian officials as well.
“No one can resolve our issue without us. Everything should happen with our participation,” he told a news briefing.
Prior to any Putin summit, Biden will participate in a virtual meeting with his counterparts from the Group of Seven (G7) on February 24 to discuss the crisis provoked by Russia’s troop buildup. The G7 includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan.
In a statement on February 21, the Kremlin said Putin and Macron agreed in two weekend phone calls that there’s a need to continue dialogue on Ukraine, according to Interfax.
Biden said February 18 that he was “convinced” that Putin had made a decision to invade Ukraine and that it could happen in the coming days. Biden said the United States and European allies would impose severe sanctions on Russia if Putin went ahead with the attack.
Russia currently has more than 150,000 combat-ready troops surrounding Ukraine.
Moscow further angered Ukraine and the West when it broke a pledge to return its troops to their bases when a military exercise in Belarus ended, instead extending the drills past the February 20 scheduled finish.
Belarus said the troops would return to their bases “when there is an objective need to do so” and would depend on when NATO forces pulled away from near the borders of Belarus and Russia.
The Kremlin is seeking to prevent Ukraine from someday joining NATO and pull the country firmly back into its sphere of influence.
Russia has repeatedly denied it intends to invade Ukraine and claimed to have begun pulling back some forces. The United States and NATO have said they see no signs of a partial pullback.
Germany had tough words for Russia, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on February 21 accusing of playing an “irresponsible” game with the civilian population of eastern Ukraine, putting their lives at risk.
“I urgently call on the Russian government, on the Russian president: Don’t play with human lives,” she told reporters as she arrived in Brussels for a summit of EU foreign ministers.
The United States has warned in recent weeks that Russia could use a “false flag” operation in eastern Ukraine to justify an invasion of the country.
On February 21, Moscow claimed it foiled a border raid by Ukrainian forces and that armed military vehicles from Ukraine were destroyed in Russia’s Rostov region.
Kyiv vehemently denied the allegations, calling them “fake” reports.
Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government forces in two provinces in eastern Ukraine for nearly eight years.
While the two sides have agreed to multiple cease-fires, European monitors have registered a surge in shelling over the past few days in eastern Ukraine that Western officials blame on the separatists.
Putin has blamed Ukraine for the increase in fighting, raising concerns he could use it as an excuse to invade.
One might imagine a Reagan-Thatcher axis might want to say at this point :
Leave all occupied territories permanently. Compensate Ukraine for its human and economic losses.
What would they get in return?
An end to sanctions, massive trade potential, guarantee of Ukraine’s
non-Nato status: on the specific understanding that it would get immediate unconditional membership in the event of any future act of aggression.
I would prefer the West to tell Putler we have nothing to talk about, instead of pandering to the little bastard.
Ideally yes. But better for Ukraine to make some painful concessions in order to secure its sovereignty.
None should be necessary, but of course Russia has France and Germany in its corner, as well as the shameful failure of the Budapest signatories to honour their obligations.
NATO and the EU have shown nothing but contempt for Ukraine, so why the hell they need to join these trash organisations is quite unbelievable.
Good, or? More blathering instead of sanctions. No, not good.