By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW -Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would send ideas to Washington within a week to follow up his talks with U.S. President Joe Biden on the Ukraine crisis.
Neither side spoke of a breakthrough after the two-hour video call but they agreed to keep talking about what the Kremlin called “this complex confrontational situation”.
“We agreed we will continue this discussion and we’ll do it in a substantive way. We will exchange our ideas in the very near future. Russia will draw up its ideas literally in the coming days, within a week we will give this to the U.S. side to consider,” Putin told reporters.
The two leaders used Tuesday’s call to set out their opposing positions on Ukraine, which says it is braced for a possible invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops close to its border.
Biden warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Moscow if it invaded, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward.
In his first public comments since the conversation, Putin said it was “provocative” to pose the question of whether Russia planned to attack Ukraine, and once again accused Kyiv and NATO of threatening Russia’s security.
“We cannot fail to be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine’s possible admission to NATO, because this will undoubtedly be followed by the deployment there of military contingents, bases and weapons that threaten us,” he said.
It would be “criminal inaction” on Russia’s part not to respond, he said.
“We are working on the assumption that our concerns, at least this time, will be heard.”
Russia, Ukraine and NATO have all stepped up military exercises as tensions have mounted in the past month.
Russian military aircraft were scrambled on Wednesday to escort French Rafale and Mirage fighter jets flying over the Black Sea, RIA news agency quoted the defence ministry as saying.
Russia’s foreign ministry said it had handed a note of protest to the U.S. embassy over “dangerous” flights of U.S. and NATO military planes near Russia’s borders.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed Biden’s “personal role” in trying to attain peace in eastern Ukraine, where Ukraine says more than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting with Russian-backed separatists.
Zelenskiy said he hoped Ukraine and Russia could agree a new ceasefire and prisoner exchanges when their representatives held talks on the conflict in Ukraine’s easterly Donbass region on Wednesday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters the talks between Biden and Putin had served the purpose of “deterrence and de-escalation”.
A Russian foreign ministry official was quoted as saying the United States might be included for the first time in a group of countries working to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
RIA quoted the official, Oleg Krasnitsky, as saying there was no reason why the United States should not join the so-called Normandy grouping – comprising Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – that has tried but so far failed to end the war.
“A lot depends on the position of Washington in settling the Ukrainian conflict. In principle, if the U.S. is really ready to make a contribution, we’ve always been open to America exercising its influence on Kyiv,” he was quoted as saying.
The remarks appeared to indicate that Moscow was open to an offer by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week for Washington to facilitate talks on the fighting.
In eastern Ukraine, some residents were sceptical that the Biden-Putin call would make any difference.
“We have been living in war for many years. And it is terrible that we got used to it. I don’t know what will happen next. We’ll see,” said a 55-year-old teacher who gave his name as Vladislav.
Alexander Pipchenko, 52, said: “It was pointless. It’s been going on for eight years already. In my opinion, it will not bear any fruit.”