The Washington Post

Russian drills seen as play for Biden talks

- BY TOM BALMFORTH ANDREW OSBORN

moscow — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reposition­ing of troops closer to Ukraine is part of a Russian push to secure and frame the terms of another summit with President Biden, say two people close to official Russian foreign policy circles.

“Putin needs another summit meeting with Biden,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a foreign policy think tank in Moscow close to the Foreign Ministry. “Apparently he now believes that the Europeans cannot really do much without the Americans and that the U. S. president has the final decision on European security measures on behalf of the Western alliance.”

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements closer to Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch a new attack on its neighbor, accusation­s Russia has rejected as fearmonger­ing.

But on Wednesday Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, saying it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its convention­al and nuclear forces because of heightened NATO activity near its borders. Ukraine staged exercises of its own near the border with Belarus.

The Kremlin has said behindthe-scenes talks are underway with the White House over a possible Putin-biden meeting, and Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported this month that such a meeting could take place in early 2022.

White House spokespers­on Jen Psaki said this week that she had no informatio­n on any plans for such a summit but that Washington has been discussing Ukraine with Russian officials.

Putin already got the attention of Biden’s White House once this year by massing troops closer to Ukraine. In April, Russia reposition­ed its forces in a similar way in what it would later say was a military exercise but which at the time raised fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine. A month later the White House announced Biden would hold a summit with Putin in Geneva.

“Obviously, since April Moscow has discovered that a new Cuban missile crisis over Ukraine could be very effective in getting Biden’s attention and inflaming his desire for a personal engagement with Putin,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat in the United States who is now a foreign-policy analyst.

“Of course, Moscow uses this as political leverage over the U. S., since the last thing Biden needs at this point is another ‘war in Ukraine’ crisis to distract him from China.”

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