U.S. President Joe Biden had a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Jan. 2 amid Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's border and ongoing tensions.
Biden made clear that the U.S. and its allies and partners "will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine," the White House wrote in a statement. He also said they were committed to keeping Ukraine in the process of negotiations, following the principle of “nothing about you without you” — something that Ukraine has been insisting on.
In his turn, Zelensky said that "joint actions of Ukraine, U.S. and partners in keeping peace in Europe, preventing further escalation, reforms, deoligarchization were discussed."
Biden also said he was willing to support active diplomacy to further implement the 2015 Minsk Agreements to end Russia's war in eastern Ukraine, and supported the Normandy Format.
The leaders of the Normandy Format countries – Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia – have not met together since 2019. Lately, Russia has been stalling the meetings. The Normandy Format and the so-called Trilateral Contact Group are the two formats set up to find a resolution to Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier, Biden said he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin during their phone call on Dec. 30 that there will be a "heavy price to pay" if Russia invades Ukraine.
"We made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves, goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies, and it'll just be a heavy price to pay for it," Biden said on Dec. 31.
According to the White House, both Zelensky and Biden expressed support for the diplomatic process, which will continue next week, to solve the ongoing crisis.
The call between Biden and Zelensky comes days before Russian and U.S. officials are set to meet in person in Geneva on Jan. 10. Putin has agreed to three upcoming conferences in Europe, including the talks in Geneva and Russia-NATO talks on Jan. 12.
The diplomatic discussions follow months of tensions amid Russia’s buildup of 122,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and in the occupied territories in preparation for a possible invasion this winter.
The U.S. and a number of its European allies have warned Russia of serious consequences if it launches a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia accused NATO of placing missiles on its doorstep and demanded guarantees that Ukraine will not become a member, something the alliance and Washington have so far refused to grant.
Russia laid out its security demands in two draft pacts on Dec. 17, offering to sign one with the U.S. and the other with NATO.
In its pact with NATO, Russia demands that the alliance terminate all military activities in a loosely defined Russian “comfort zone” and that all member states that joined after 1997 do not deploy their militaries or weapons in any European countries.
NATO exercises near Russia’s border would be banned, as would the deployment of mid and short-range surface-to-air missiles.
In the U.S. pact, Russia demands Washington to formally commit to preventing the alliance’s enlargement to the east. Russia also called for a Cold War-style hotline between the two nations.
The proposals were immediately dismissed.
They seek to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty by brokering a deal with NATO while excluding any involvement of the Ukrainian government. Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that membership decisions are made by members and not external parties.
In turn, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Dec. 16 condemning Russia for threatening Ukraine with war and promising a “high economic and political price” for new hostilities.
The scope of sanctions evoked by the text entails a wide scope of economic sanctions against the Kremlin.
The text said sanctions should include freezing Russian financial and physical assets in the EU, travel bans, the exclusion of Russia from the international SWIFT bank payment system, as well as targeting key sectors of Russia’s economy, including the country’s intelligence services and its military support.
The potential sanctions could target Russian officers involved in the planning of a possible invasion, as well as oligarchs and other people “in the orbit of the Russian President (Vladimir Putin) and their families.”
European parliament members urged the shutdown of Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline regardless of whether it gets certified in Germany.
If launched, Nord Stream 2 will be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year under the Baltic Sea, depriving Ukraine of up to $2 billion of annual transit revenues and a deterrent against further Russian aggression.