Joe Biden stepped up the pressure on Russia on Friday by saying he was preparing “initiatives” to defend Ukraine in the event of an invasion, before an exchange with his counterpart Vladimir Poutine expected in the coming days.
Claiming to be in “constant contact” with the allies of the United States and the Ukrainians, the American president declared from the White House: “I am preparing what will be, I believe, the set of initiatives. more comprehensive and relevant, to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to do what people fear he is doing. “
Joe Biden, who was responding to a question posed after a speech on the economy, did not give further details.
According to the Kremlin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the US president and his Russian counterpart should soon discuss directly the tensions around Ukraine, seven years after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the takeover part of the eastern part of the former Soviet republic by pro-Russian separatist forces.
But the exact date and modalities of this conversation are not known.
The two men had seen each other in person in Geneva last June. But Joe Biden has since largely focused his diplomatic efforts on the rivalry of the United States with China: he had a total of three long discussions with President Xi Jinping, including a videoconference lasting several hours on November 15.
There is no doubt that by massing tens of thousands of soldiers on the Ukrainian border, as Washington and Kiev reproach him, Vladimir Putin has regained the attention of his American counterpart.
To ease tensions, Moscow is calling for “security guarantees” and in particular the assurance that NATO will not continue to expand eastward, in particular with Ukraine joining.
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Kiev for its part categorically refuses to abandon such a membership project, formally on the table since 2008, but remained in limbo. Joining NATO would mean that the other countries of the alliance, the United States in the lead, would be required to intervene militarily to defend Ukraine in the event of aggression.
The diplomatic exercise is delicate for Joe Biden.
The Democrat certainly wants to be the spokesperson for democracies in the face of authoritarian regimes in the world: he is even organizing a virtual two-day “summit of democracies” next week, an initiative touted by China and Russia. He also wants to repair the traditional alliances of the United States, undermined by his predecessor Donald Trump.
But on the other hand, the President of the United States, who put an end to twenty years of military intervention in Afghanistan, no longer wants to engage American troops in major open conflicts.
And if he is not stingy with strong declarations against Russia, and in particular against Vladimir Poutine whom he had publicly qualified as a “killer”, Joe Biden can also be pragmatic. He showed it, for example, by giving his approval to a gas pipeline project dear to Moscow, but which infuriates Ukraine.
Joe Biden does not hide his impatience with the problems of corruption and governance in Ukraine either. Receiving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House at the beginning of September, he had promised him to “support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression”, but had made little headway on the hot topic. membership in NATO.