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Two days after a conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Joe Biden held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Dec. 9 to discuss possible full-scale military action by Russia against Ukraine as the current tensions show no sign of abating.
“Ukraine’s head of state has rendered thanks to Joseph Biden for his consistent, solid, and resolute support of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmed his irreversible aspiration towards seeking a peaceful solution in Donbas,” the Ukrainian presidential office said late on Dec. 9.
The two leaders also discussed Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, with Zelensky noting that the Kremlin’s controversial project in Europe strips Ukraine of a significant source of leverage to deter further Russian military aggression. According to Ukrainian authorities, the recently completed pipeline may spell the end of Ukraine’s status as a gas transit country between Russia and Europe, losing Ukraine around $2 billion a year.
According to Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak, the conversation lasted for nearly an hour and a half, during which Biden told the Ukrainian president that he had assured Putin of severe consequences in case of a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Biden was very straightforward, saying that together with partners, (the U.S.) was ready for unprecedented sanctions,” Yermak said late on Dec. 9.
“Biden was very clear saying that the decision to join NATO is a decision made exclusively by the Ukrainian people, that it is a sovereign, independent nation, and that he was not ready to discuss this issue (with Putin). It depends on Ukraine and the NATO nations.”
According to Yermak, the U.S. president also told Putin that any negotiations and decisions regarding Ukraine are not possible without Ukraine’s presence, and that the U.S. was ready to render any assistance necessary for Ukraine to repel an attack at any time.
“I have a special sentiment towards your country, I love and respect it very much, and I believe in its success,” Yermak quoted Biden as saying.
Biden and Putin held a video conference on Dec. 7 to discuss Ukraine, as satellite imagery has shown Moscow concentrating nearly 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in what is feared by many to be the preparation for a full-scale invasion and occupation of much of the country.
The talks concluded without definitive resolutions or commitments from either side.
Following the conversation, the White House said it expects effective results regarding Moscow’s stance on Ukraine in the coming days.
Putin, meanwhile, stated that the Kremlin and the White House would create a structure to discuss NATO’s expansion.
Citing anonymous sources in Biden’s administration, the Associated Press reported on Dec. 9 that the U.S. might “press Ukraine to formally cede a measure of autonomy within its eastern Donbas region, which is now under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists.”
Commenting on the report, Yermak’s adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said that anonymous sources and hypothetical considerations are unreliable and often turn out to be a provocation.
In early December, Putin and the Kremlin mouthpieces repeatedly demanded that NATO assume formal obligations on non-extension in Eastern Europe, which would make Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance impossible.
In response, Biden said that he would not accept any Russian red lines regarding Ukraine. According to multiple reports in the U.S. media, Biden’s administration is considering heavy economic sanctions on the Kremlin’s inner circle, as well as disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT global banking system, in the event of a large escalation of the war with Ukraine.