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What are the Major Messages of the 2nd Putin-Biden Phone Call Ahead of the US-Russia Security Talks?

© REUTERS / HANDOUTU.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.01.2022
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Joe Biden held talks on 30 December on a broad range of strategic issues ahead of the January Geneva talks on Russia's security proposals. Foreign affairs analyst Gilbert Doctorow and Eurasia Centre Vice President Earl Rasmussen have explained why the conversation is a "good sign".
During the 50-minute phone conversation on 30 December, Vladimir Putin told Joe Biden about the key principles of the proposed security accords Russia had submitted earlier, stressing that Moscow needs legally binding agreements on security guarantees.
The Russian president also warned his interlocutor that the imposition of further punitive sanctions could disrupt US-Russia relations. For his part, the American president asserted to Putin that Washington was not planning to deploy "offensive strike weapons in Ukraine". Biden again threatened Moscow with sanctions and a NATO response in the event that Russia invades Ukraine, an assumption repeatedly shredded by the Kremlin as unfounded and nonsensical.
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Second Biden-Putin Phone Talk is a 'Good Sign'

The second call in a month between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden signals the beginning of a US-Russia dialogue even though there has not been a breakthrough yet, deems Eurasia Centre Vice President Earl Rasmussen.

"It's a good sign, because communications between the two superpowers were curtailed very sharply, starting with the Obama administration by its wishes; during the Trump administration they deteriorated still further – not because the president wanted that, but because it was imposed on him by Congress," echoes Gilbert Doctorow, an international relations and Russian affairs analyst.

Doctorow points out that the Thursday phone talk was initiated by the Russians. He surmises that the trigger was the US State Department and particularly National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan's attempt to "change the subject or to put up their own subjects for discussion in Geneva".
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The American "counterproposals" concern strategic stability through arms control and Ukraine, the analyst explains, adding that in the US media Ukraine - not the Russian security draft – is highlighted as the issue driving these talks. According to Doctorow, the Biden administration encourages such an interpretation of the upcoming Geneva talks, "because it's most easily understood by the public, and it is a version of the discussions that makes Biden look strong".
"However, from the standpoint of the Russians, this changing of the agenda for the talks in Geneva is unacceptable, and I believe that the reason that Mr. Putin requested this call was to tell Mr. Biden exactly that and to handle the question of Ukraine separately from the Geneva talks in direct contact between the two presidents yesterday," Doctorow says. "So, that is the reason why the Russians took the initiative, and that is why the call was important."
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Biden's Vow Not to Deploy Missiles in Ukraine & NATO Military Aid to Kiev

Biden promised that the US will not deploy offensive strike weapons in Ukraine and emphasised that a nuclear war must not be started – as it cannot be won.
The US president's statement that a nuclear war must not be started can be trusted, while his vow not to deploy offensive strike weapons in Ukraine should be taken with a pinch of salt, according to Doctorow.
The analyst cites the fact that Ukraine is building naval bases with assistance from the UK. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the UK’s leading defence and security think tank, revealed in November that the UK has committed to helping Kiev to "enhance [the country's] naval capabilities, focusing on the development of new bases and platforms, delivery of shipborne armaments, and the training of naval personnel".
On 23 June, Ukraine and UK signed a Memorandum of Implementation (MOI) envisaging financial aid for construction of missile boats, purchase of two minehunters from the UK and establishment of two naval bases.
Meanwhile, the US provided both non-lethal and lethal defensive items to Ukraine and more recently has focused on enhancing Ukraine’s capacity to counter what RUSI called "the Russian threat in the Black Sea".
Earlier this month, the Russian president warned that the potential deployment of hypersonic and other types of missiles on Ukrainian territory poses a security threat to Russia.
"So, the notion that the United States will not place offensive weapons there is deceptive, if not an outright lie," he says. "Perhaps they won't be American weapons, but if there are British weapons, you have the same result."
According to the analyst, the rhetoric of not placing offensive strike weapons was aimed at appealing "to the peace-loving American public".
"I wouldn't take it too seriously. I don't believe the Kremlin takes it too seriously," he notes.
On 23 December, Vladimir Putin underscored that if the US and NATO don't provide legally binding guarantees of non-expansion and proceed with stationing of weapons on Russia's doorstep, Moscow would resort to a military-technical response.
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Why US' 'Sanctions from Hell' are Something That's Unlikely to Happen

The major addressee of Biden's anti-Russia sanctions rhetoric was the American public in the first place, Doctorow highlights. These measures, dubbed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland "sanctions from hell" are an electoral platform position, because we have midterm elections coming up in less than a year, according to him.
"You have to look at it in that context and not as something the United States is likely to implement," the analyst suggests.
On the one hand, there is no looming threat of Russian invasion that is called a precondition for the sanctions; on the other hand, new "sanctions from hell" from Washington against Russia won't have much impact on Russian economy or global politics and because the relations and ties between the two countries are minimal at the present time.
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If Washington forces the EU to implement similar draconian sanctions on Russia, it will deal a heavy blow to the European bloc's economy and stability, argues Doctorow. For instance, the US cannot force the EU to abandon Russian hydrocarbons, given that the country's share constitutes over 30% of the union's gas purchases. "There is no way that any other country, starting with the United States, can fill that gap if Russia cuts supplies", the analyst highlights.
"If the EU were to cut Russia from SWIFT, if it were to do all these horrible things to its relations with Russia that Victoria Nuland has been promoting, then the EU member states would be in a severe depression within days, because any cut in economic ties with Russia would be shooting themselves in both feet," Doctorow concludes.
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