Russian President Vladimir Putin won a major concession from US President Joe Biden, who has agreed to talks involving Russia and four major Nato members to discuss European security arrangements, it was reported on December 8.
Putin and Biden met for a second online summit on December 7 where the Russian president demanded “legal guarantees” that Nato would not expand further east – something that Biden is in no position to promise, as he cannot speak on behalf of the 30-member treaty.
But Biden said the next day that he was organising a meeting between Russian officials and four other Nato members by the end of this week to "discuss the future of Russia's concerns relative to Nato writ large" and whether or not accommodations could be worked out as it related to "bringing down the temperature along the eastern front,” Biden said as cited by Reuters.
The meeting will be seen in some quarters as a major concession to the Kremlin, which has forced the issue by building up considerable forces in its western and southern military districts that face Ukraine.
Putin has been complaining for many years about Nato’s continued expansion eastwards and is particularly alarmed by increased arms and military aid sent to Ukraine, which he sees as de facto incorporation into Nato, even if the chances of Ukraine being formally admitted to the military alliance remain low. On top of that, Putin is narked by the “broken verbal promises” made by Western leaders to Communist Party Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the twilight of the Soviet Union of no Nato eastern expansion.
These complaints have been ignored until now, but in a dramatic hardening of Russia’s foreign policy line that began in February, Putin has now forced the issue onto the agenda by moving up forces that threaten to invade Ukraine.
For its part the White House has made it clear since Biden took office that it wants to walk back tensions with Russia so it can more fully concentrate on dealing with the geopolitical challenge being posed by China’s rise. Back home Biden is facing resistance from both parties in Congress, who are not happy with his softer stance on Russia.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House on December 8, Biden sought to stave off any criticism for his concession but highlighted that he took sticks to the meeting with Putin as well as carrots. He repeated that he had made it clear to Putin during their virtual meeting that there would be “economic consequences like none before” if Russia invaded Ukraine. He added that he was confident Putin got the message.
"There were no minced words," Biden said as cited by Reuters. "I made it very clear: if in fact he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences, economic consequences like none he's ever seen or ever have been seen," he said.
As bne IntelliNews has reported, military analysts say that chances of an actual invasion are very low, as any active war would be extremely costly for Russia in terms of lives and the political and diplomatic fall-out it would cause. More likely is that Putin has used the threat of war as a tool to force the US and Nato into discussing security relations in Europe.
The announcement is confirmation that the two-hour talks between Biden and Putin earlier this week had more substance than was initially reported, but even following the meeting the Kremlin reaction to the meeting was positive, as it was already clear that Putin is playing a long game.
The threat against Ukraine is a headache for the West, which is committed to supporting Ukraine in its efforts to face down Russian aggression and an undeclared war in the east of the country, but Biden reiterated the United States would not come to Ukraine’s aid militarily if it were attacked by Russia.
"That is not on the table," Biden said when asked if US troops would be used to stop a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"It would depend upon what the rest of the Nato countries were willing to do as well," Biden said. "But the idea the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not ... in the cards right now.”