Biden and Putin to hold crisis talks amid fears of imminent Russian invasion
US President Joe Biden will hold talks with Russian President today, with the West fearing a war in Ukraine could ignite at any moment.
Negotiations were initially going to be hold on Monday, but Biden requested the meeting was brought forward amid alarming forecasts from Washington that an invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan has told reporters that US intelligence believes a rapid assault on Kyiv is possible, and that Putin could order an invasion before the Winter Olympics end on February 20.
Commercial satellite images from a US firm have revealed multiple new Russian military deployments at several sites near the border.
There are now Russian forces gathered north, south and east of Ukraine, while six Russian warships have reached the Black Sea and more Russian military equipment arrived in Belarus.
Ukrainian officials have played down Washington’s assessment an invasion could be imminent, but it has raised protests over Russian plans to partially block the Sea of Avoz to conduct military exercises.
Meanwhile, Biden will send 3,000 extra troops to neighbouring country Poland to reassure NATO allies.
It has already placed 8,500 already on alert for deployment to Europe if needed.
Over the past two months, the US has consistently ruled out military intervention in the region.
However it has cautioned the Kremlin that strict sanctions will be imposed if the 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine cross its borders.
Biden even pledged last week that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline flowing gas to Germany will be halted if Russian invades, as part of a united Western response to potential conflict.
Meanwhile, UK, Australia, and New Zealand have joined the US in urging their citizens to leave Ukraine.
On Twitter, Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused Washington of fanning “hysteria” and mounting a “panic campaign.”
Russia has repeatedly disputed Washington’s version of events, defending its build-up of troops near the Ukrainian border to maintain its own security against perceived aggression by NATO allies.
Putin is seeking security guarantees from Biden to block Ukraine’s entry into NATO and missile deployments near Russia’s borders.
Washington regards the proposals as non-starters, but has pushed the Kremlin to discuss the matter with the US and its European allies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed hope that Putin would choose diplomacy but said Washington would impose swift economic sanctions if Moscow invades.
He told reporters: “I continue to hope that he will not choose the path of renewed aggression and he’ll chose the path of diplomacy and dialogue. But if he doesn’t, we’re prepared.”
Two calls in December between Biden and Putin produced no breakthroughs but set the stage for diplomacy between aides from both countries.
Both leaders have not spoken since, and diplomats from each side have struggled to find common ground.
Four-way talks in Berlin between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on Thursday also made no progress.
According to Reuters, Biden believes one-on-one engagement with Putin may be the best chance at a resolution.
Putin plans to additionally speak with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.