Blinken's warning for Putin: He will answer for ransomware attacks
Secretary of State Tony Blinken warned that Vladimir Putin will have to answer for the ransomware attacks that caused meat and gas prices to skyrocket.'We would prefer to have a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia. We’ve made that clear. But we’ve made equally clear that if Russia chooses to act aggressively or recklessly toward us or toward our allies and partners, we’ll respond,' Blinken told Axios' Mike Allen in an interview that aired on HBO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that it would be unacceptable to Russia if Ukraine joined NATO during an interview Wednesday with Russian state television.
The longtime leader claimed that Ukraine's admittance to the organization would give NATO access to missiles that need just seven minutes to reach Moscow and other points of interest in Russia, the Associated Press reported. He also said that his concern would be similar to a situation where Russian missiles were stationed in Mexico or Canada, allowing them to reach the U.S. in a much shorter amount of time if deployed.
Vladimir Putin Returns Compliments to Donald Trump Ahead of Joe Biden Meeting
The two presidents will meet in Switzerland on June 16 for their first bilateral summit since Biden came to office.Trump issued a statement on Thursday praising his relationship with Putin and touting a 2018 meeting between the two in Helsinki, Finland. He also mockingly offered Biden good luck, saying "don't fall asleep during the meeting.
"At least 50 percent of Ukrainian residents don't want entry into NATO and these are smart people," Putin said during the interview. "They understand, they don't want to wind up on the firing line, they don't want to be bargaining chips or cannon fodder."
U.S. President Joe Biden, who will meet Putin at a Geneva summit Wednesday, told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a call that the U.S. support for Ukraine's independence is unmoving. Biden said that Kyiv's position in Russia would be considered when discussing NATO affairs, the Associated Press reported.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Central and Eastern European nations are anxious about the coming summit meeting between Biden and Putin, wary of what they see as hostile intentions from the Kremlin.
Some in the countries that once were part of the Soviet Union or the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact during the Cold War worry that Washington could scale down support for its allies in the region in a bid to secure a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.
"I think there have been doubts as to the resoluteness of the present administration to face Russian aggressive actions in a decisive manner," said Witold Rodkiewicz, chief specialist on Russian politics at Warsaw's Center of Eastern Studies, a state-funded think tank that advises the Polish government.
Both Russia and the U.S. have sought to moderate expectations about Wednesday's summit in Geneva, ruling out any breakthroughs amid the worst tensions between the two powers since Soviet times, especially after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian interference with U.S. elections and hacking attacks, as well as other strains.
Ukraine leader says Biden should have met him before Putin summit
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky Monday said US President Joe Biden should have met him before his high-profile summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin as they could resolve nothing on Ukraine without Kiev at the table. In April, Zelensky invited Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine but Putin appeared to shoot down that offer, saying the Ukrainian leader was welcome in Moscow "any time".The 43-year-old leader spoke to journalists as the US and Russian presidents prepare to hold their first summit meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.
Rodkiewicz, however, noted the White House's decision to waive sanctions against the German company overseeing the prospective Russian-built Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany. That project could potentially allow Moscow to bypass Ukraine, Poland and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe that collect transit fees on the energy.
"In a clear, unequivocal way the administration signaled that for them, Europe is Germany basically, and German interests are going to be taken into account, while the interests of other players in Europe are going to be sort of put on the back burner," Rodkiewicz told The Associated Press.
Nowhere else are worries about the summit more acute than in Ukraine. It has been locked in a tense tug-of-war with Russia ever since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula following the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president in 2014 and a Russia-backed separatist insurgency in the country's east — a conflict that has killed more than 14,000.
"Ukraine fears that agreements between Biden and Putin could turn it into a peripheral country," said Vadim Karasev, an independent Kyiv-based political analyst.
NATO Leaders Warn Russia to Comply With 'International Obligations' or Face Consequences
Biden met with E.U. leaders to strengthen ties and discuss trade. With U.S.-Russian relations at an all time low, NATO leaders warn Russia or there will be no 'business as usual.'"Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to 'business as usual.' We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defense posture," NATO leaders wrote.
Kyiv worries that Nord Stream 2 would deprive it not only of transit fees for pumping Russian gas to Europe but also erode its strategic importance and weaken it politically.
A U.S. failure to block the pipeline would mark "a personal loss for President Biden" and a "serious geopolitical victory for the Russian Federation," said Zelenskyy.
In 2008, NATO promised that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually be welcome to join the alliance despite protests from Russia. Four months later, Russia routed Georgia in a five-day war that erupted when the Georgian leadership tried to reclaim control of a separatist region.
Earlier this year, Russia bolstered its forces near Ukraine and warned Kyiv that it could intervene militarily if Ukrainian authorities try to retake the rebel-controlled east. Moscow has since pulled back at least some of its troops, but Ukrainian officials say Russia has kept a massive contingent close to the border.
"The Kremlin has signaled that Ukraine's NATO bid is fraught with a new, hot conflict in Europe, something that Washington definitely doesn't want," Karasev said.
Alex Petriashvili, senior fellow at the Rondeli Foundation think tank in Tbilisi, Georgia, deplored the lack of consensus within NATO on granting Ukraine and Georgia clear plans for membership.
The Putin summit may backfire on Biden
The biggest risk Biden faces won’t come during the Putin summit. It’ll possibly come right afterward.That may sound good, but experts warn Biden is setting himself up for potential failure.
"It is certainly negatively affecting the aspirations of the two countries and gives the advantage to Russia, which is fiercely opposing their membership," Petriashvili said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis argued that Russia seeks "to reestablish control of internal, foreign and security policies of the states in Central and Eastern Europe" that it considers part of its "privileged sphere of interests."
"Like in Soviet times, both conventional and hybrid measures are used to assert control," he told AP.
Russia has rejected allegations it is trying to destabilize the countries or draw them back into its orbit. It has accused the European Union and NATO members that once were part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact of "Russophobia," casting them as key instigators of Western sanctions that limited Moscow's access to global capital markets and restricted imports of modern technology.
Landsbergis has shrugged off concerns that Washington could leave its Central and Eastern European allies in the cold.
"We have no reasons to doubt our closest trans-Atlantic ally," Landsbergis told AP. "The Biden administration has on numerous occasions underscored its commitment to work in close coordination with its European allies."
Latvia's top diplomat, Edgars Rinkevics, has similarly emphasized that Washington "steadfastly remains the closest ally" and "plays a key role in European security."
Ondrej Ditrych, director of the Institute of International Relations think-tank, also said he expects Biden to take a firm stance in Geneva.
Joe Biden Gifts Vladimir Putin With a Crystal Bison and a Pair of Custom Aviators
The U.S. president came bearing gifts when the two leaders met face-to-face for the first time since Biden took office. Biden gifted Putin with a crystal sculpture of an American bison—considered one of the United States' most majestic mammals and a symbol of strength, unity and resilience, a White House official told reporters. The sculpture, made by Steuben, was presented on a cherry wood base in homage to President George Washington, with a custom engraved plaque commemorating the Biden-Putin meeting.
"Biden is not naive, even as ahead of the summit the administration seems to make overtures to make Russia amenable to discussing strategic issues in earnest," he said in Prague. "I would not be worried that a détente that would be detrimental to Central and Eastern Europe countries would be in the making."
Some others aren't so optimistic.
"The real reason to worry is that perhaps Putin might come out of this meeting encouraged by what he sees on the other side, and that might make him bolder to press his advantages in a regional context," said Rodkiewicz, the Warsaw-based analyst.