2021 ends with a new escalation of tension between NATO and Moscow over disputes related to the Donbas conflict. Moreover, Russia's troop build-up near the Ukrainian border has raised fears in the West of a possible Russian invasion. Moscow, for its part, accuses NATO of conducting military manoeuvres near its border.
Aiming to avoid a clash in Ukraine, Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have held their second conversation this month. During the 50-minute phone call, the US president insisted on the need to "reduce tensions with Ukraine", as White House press secretary ten Psaki reported.
"He has made clear that the United States and its allies will respond decisively if Russia continues to encroach on Ukraine," Psaki said. At the last virtual meeting in early December, the US president threatened strong economic and other measures. But during this new conversation, Biden "has also expressed support for diplomacy", she added. On 10 January, Biden and Putin will meet in Geneva, followed a few days later by another summit between Russia and the NATO Council.
Meanwhile, Putin warned that relations between the two countries could break down if US threats of "unprecedented sanctions" become reality, as reported by Kremlin adviser and former Russian ambassador to Washington Yury Ushkov. The Russian leader asserted that future generations would regard such moves "as mistakes". "There have been many such mistakes over the past 30 years, and it is preferable in this situation that they not be made again," Ushkov said.
As the Kremlin adviser noted, Biden promised not to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine. "Joe Biden stressed the great responsibility of Russia and the United States for the maintenance of stability in Europe and the whole world," he added. Ushkov also noted that Biden assured that a nuclear war cannot be started. "The Americans start from this while understanding that the United States and Russia have the greatest nuclear potentials in the world," the former ambassador explained.
Russia continues to defend its security interests. On the same day as the Biden-Putin call, Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, wrote an article in Foreign Policy magazine stressing Russia's need to "defend its security". "If our partners continue to build strategic military realities that endanger our country's existence, we will be forced to create similar vulnerabilities for them," Antonov said. In line with Moscow, the diplomat reiterated that NATO's military actions in Ukraine are "an existential threat to Russia".
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, has also commented on current relations between Moscow and the West, in particular with Brussels. At a press conference on Thursday, the same day as the Putin-Biden call, Zakharova called the EU's form of dialogue with Russia in recent years "unacceptable". These statements were in response to comments made by Jose Borrell, the EU's chief diplomat, to the newspaper Die Welt. Borrell described Russia's demands to NATO as "unacceptable".
Due to the growing rift in relations between the West and Russia, Moscow is seeking to intensify its ties with other international allies, such as Belarus and China. In this context, Moscow and Minsk intend to develop defence cooperation due to the West's behaviour, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the TASS news agency in an interview. In his New Year's greetings to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Putin expressed Moscow's expectations "regarding the development of Russian-Chinese relations in 2022".