Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will hold talks for the second time in less than a month. This has been announced by the authorities of both powers following a request from the Russian president, according to US sources. The phone call is scheduled for 23:30 Moscow time. During the conversation, "a range of issues will be discussed, including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia," National Security spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement.
"The Biden Administration continues to conduct extensive diplomatic engagement with our European allies and partners, consulting and coordinating a common approach in response to Russia's military build-up on the Ukrainian border," Horne said in the statement. White House sources told CNN that President Biden agreed to Putin's request because he believes that "when it comes to Russia, there is no substitute for direct leader-to-leader dialogue".
During the call, the US president will again express his concern about the presence of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. Indeed, in a recent conversation between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky, Blinken again reiterated Washington's 'unwavering' support for 'Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's military build-up'.
Ukraine was the main topic of the two leaders' virtual meeting earlier this month, with Biden threatening economic and other retaliation if Russia attacks Ukraine. Putin, for his part, warned that his country would respond if 'its red lines' were crossed, referring to NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe. The tone between Washington and Moscow is unlikely to change in the upcoming talks, as Russian troops near the Ukrainian border continue to worry the West. This week Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, again reaffirmed the EU's support for Ukraine's 'sovereignty and territorial integrity'.
During the phone call, both Biden and Putin will once again put their demands regarding the Ukrainian crisis on the table, and the conversation will be a prelude to their meeting on 10 January in Geneva, where they met in June. "During the talks, we will strive for firm legal guarantees of Russia's security from the US side, namely no NATO advance to the east and no deployment of weapons systems that threaten Russia near our country's borders," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a press conference.
Vladimir Putin also met this week with his Belarusian ally Alexander Lukashenko, with whom he agreed to "continue cooperation in aircraft construction", Russia's TASS news agency reported. "We have civilian and military plants in the aircraft construction industry, we can do a lot for cooperation, especially because (such projects) are in demand for the Russian aircraft industry," the Belarusian president said. Putin and Lukashenko have also agreed to hold joint military exercises in early 2022. During the meeting, the Belarusian president also thanked Moscow for its help in the economic sector following the sanctions imposed by Brussels on Minsk for 'the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, the democratic opposition and journalists', according to the Council of the European Union.
In the midst of tension between NATO and Russia over Ukraine, Putin has announced that Gazprom has already filled the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The Russian president noted that "Nord Stream is ready to operate" and that now "everything depends" on Europe, specifically Germany, which suspended the certification process until the project meets all the necessary requirements. Putin referred to the serious energy crisis facing Europe, "will contribute to solving the problem of price stabilisation on the European market", he explained. "I recall that we are talking about 55 billion cubic metres a year," he added.
Nord Stream 2 has been controversial since its construction. Ukraine, an ally of Brussels, would be the main loser if the pipeline were to be implemented, as the cable does not pass through its territory and Kiev would lose millions of euros in transit fees. Other countries such as Poland and the United States have also opposed the pipeline, considering that Nord Stream 2 would lead to a high level of energy dependence on Russia. However, most of the gas that currently reaches Europe already comes from the Russian state monopoly Gazprom, although it goes through other pipelines: Yamal-Europe, which passes through Belarus and Poland; or UPU, which passes through Ukraine.