On Thursday, December 2st, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Stockholm, Sweden, amid concern over Russia’s military buildup on its Western border. Although their conversation did not yield a concrete path forward, both sides agreed to continue the diplomatic dialogue, setting the groundwork for a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, December 7th.
“There are areas where we have overlapping interests, and we should be able to work together if we can have some stability and predictability in the relationship. Russia’s actions and the threat of further aggression against Ukraine moves in exactly the opposite direction,” Blinken said. However, Russia has adamantly denied US accusations of aggression against Ukraine, with Lavrov stressing concerns over NATO, saying that “drawing Ukraine into the geopolitical games of the United States against the background of the deployment of NATO forces in the immediate vicinity of our borders will have the most serious consequences” and repeating Putin’s demand for “long-term security guarantees.”
“It’s now on Russia to deescalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions, and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine,” Blinken stated in the press conference after their meeting. Lavrov said that NATO refused to consider proposals to deescalate tensions to prevent further dangerous incidents. “The alliance’s military infrastructure is being irresponsibly brought closer to Russia’s borders in Romania and Poland,” he said. Lavrov warned NATO against turning countries neighboring Russia, like Ukraine, into “bridgeheads of confrontation,” saying that he hoped Russian proposals for a new security pact would be considered. In response to Russia’s concerns, Blinken said that the US could facilitate Russia’s concerns through diplomacy, urging Russia to pull back its forces: “The United States is willing to facilitate that but...if Russia decides to pursue confrontation there will be serious consequences.”
The last time Biden and Putin met was during the Geneva summit in June, where the topic of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine was among the top issues discussed. Now, with the issue of Russia's military buildup front and center, Biden and Putin will speak using a secure video link Tuesday evening to discuss Ukraine and other outstanding issues. According to Yuri Ushakov, a senior aide to Putin, Putin and Biden are expected to discuss a wide variety of other issues outside of Russia’s buildup in Ukraine, including the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East region, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and the situation in the global oil market. Hopefully, the meeting between Biden and Putin will resolve misunderstandings on both the US and Russia's position surrounding Ukraine and also lead to more agreement in other areas.