Putin urges Biden to remove Ukraine from NATO membership

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The U.S. and Russian presidents discussed Ukraine tensions in a phone call ahead of low-level talks in Geneva next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden that any sanctions against Russia would be a grave mistake. A Kremlin aide made the remarks on Thursday after the two great leaders spoke by phone ahead of low-level talks next month.

The phone call, which U.S. officials said began at 15:35 EST (20:35 GMT) and lasted for 50 minutes came amid Western concerns over the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine.

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said Russia was satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. He said the conversation centered on the security guarantees Moscow wants from the West, stressing that any sanctions against Russia would be a “grave mistake”.

“We hope these sanctions will not happen,” Ushakov told reporters after the phone call.

It is the second time Putin and Biden have held direct talks this month, as Russia’s military concentration near Ukraine continues to raise concerns that Russia is preparing for an imminent invasion of its neighbor.

In a statement describing Thursday’s talks, the White House said Biden urged Putin to “de-escalate” simmering tensions and “make clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia invades Ukraine further”.

The Kremlin has denied that it plans to carry out an attack on Ukraine, instead accusing Western countries of undermining the security situation in the region through the expansion of NATO and Ukraine’s relations with the alliance.

Ahead of the discussions, both sides insisted they were ready to listen. But with Thursday’s talks arranging low-level face-to-face negotiations in Geneva in January, there are some indications of significant concessions.

Biden expressed support for discussions next month during his communications with Putin. The White House also said it “reiterates that substantive progress in this dialogue can only take place in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation”.

Samuel Greene, director of the Russian Institute at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera that the US and Russia “need to be seen as an effort” amid tensions.

“This is an opportunity for Putin to claim some victories, to show that maybe the West is a little unhinged – if he can turn it around that way,” Greene said. “For the Biden administration… “And european allies, it’s very important to really do all they can — other than make concessions they can’t make — to ensure peace and security in and around Ukraine.”

Earlier this month, the Russian government published a draft security pact demanding that NATO deny membership in Ukraine and other former Soviet states and halt troop and weapons deployments in central and eastern Europe.

But the U.S. and its NATO allies say only alliance members can decide when other countries join, while stressing that any security talks with Moscow need to weigh NATO concerns and involve Ukraine and other partners.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said this week that Russian diplomats and military officials would take part in talks with the U.S. next month on a list of security guarantees Moscow wants from Washington.

The discussions in Geneva will take place on Jan. 10, while Moscow and NATO representatives are expected to meet on Jan. 12. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes Russia and the US, will discuss these tensions.

The Russian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and the U.S. delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Wendy Sherman.

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