By Matthias Williams
KYIV – Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters on Wednesday that talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had enabled “deterrence and de-escalation”.
In the first reaction by a senior Ukrainian official about Tuesday’s video call between Biden and Putin, Kuleba welcomed U.S. efforts to bring Russia to the negotiating table.
But he added that the priority was drawing up a deterrence package to ward Moscow off any further military escalation.
Ukraine and its NATO allies have sounded the alarm about Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders this year, sparking worries that a simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine could erupt into open war between the two neighbours.
“The contact itself serves (as) deterrence and de-escalation,” Kuleba said in written remarks about Tuesday’s call. “We appreciate the crucial diplomatic engagement of the U.S. in efforts to bring Russia back to the table of negotiations.”
Biden warned Putin on Tuesday that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if Russia launched a new offensive against Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward.
STRONG SIGNALS TO PUTIN
Kuleba has led Kyiv’s diplomatic efforts to press allies for a package of measures to deter Russia from launching a new offensive. Russia has dismissed suggestions of such an attack as false and inflammatory while blaming Ukraine and the United States for destabilising behaviour.
Kuleba said he was confident “Putin heard some very clear and strong signals regarding Russia’s escalation along the border of Ukraine and in the region”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will speak to Biden on Thursday.
Kuleba said Thursday’s talks would allow the two leaders to discuss further steps to deter Russia and ways to revitalise four-way peace talks between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany about the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“Currently, as we see a clear lack of constructiveness on the Russian side, the main priority is to effectively implement the comprehensive deterrence package to demotivate Russia from further military escalation,” Kuleba said.
“We are working closely with our allies on both sides of the Atlantic to achieve that.”
Ukraine’s ties with Russia collapsed in 2014 after Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back. Kyiv says some 14,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.
Since the latest crisis started, Moscow has set out demands for legally binding security guarantees from the West that NATO will not admit Ukraine as a member or deploy missile systems there to target Russia.
Ukraine says Russia has no say over its ambitions to join the NATO alliance and dismissed the suggestion of security guarantees as illegitimate.
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)