Vladimir Putin - Caricature
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So Russian President Vladimir Putin, by himself, and United States President Joe Biden, surrounded by aides, finally had their secret video link conference for two hours and two minutes - with translators placed in different rooms.
That was their first serious exchange since they met in person in Geneva last June - the first Russia-US summit since 2018. For global public opinion, led to believe a "war" in Ukraine was all but imminent, what's left is essentially a torrent of spin.
So let's start with a simple exercise focusing on the key issue of the video link - Ukraine - contrasting the White House and Kremlin versions of what transpired.
The White House: Biden made it "clear" to Putin that the US and allies will respond with "decisive economic and other measures" to a military escalation in Ukraine. At the same time, Biden called on Putin to de-escalate around Ukraine and "return to diplomacy."
Kremlin: Putin offered Biden to nullify all restrictions on the functioning of diplomatic missions. He remarked that cooperation between Russia and the US is still in an "unsatisfactory" state.
He urged the US not to shift "responsibility on the shoulders of Russia" for the escalation of the situation around Ukraine.
The White House: The US will expand military aid to Ukraine if Russia takes steps against it.
Kremlin: Putin told Biden that Russia is interested in obtaining legally fixed guarantees excluding NATO's eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive strike systems in Russia's neighboring countries.
The White House: Biden did not give Putin any commitments that Ukraine will remain outside NATO.
Minsk or bust
Now for what really matters: the red line.
What Putin diplomatically told Team Biden, sitting at their table, is that Russia's red line - no Ukraine in NATO - is unmovable. The same applies to Ukraine turned into a hub of the Pentagon's empire of bases and hosting NATO weaponry.
Washington may deny it ad infinitum, but Ukraine is part of Russia's sphere of influence. If nothing is done to force Kiev to abide by the Minsk Agreement, Russia will "neutralize" the threat on its own terms.
The root cause of all this drama, absent from any NATO narrative, is straightforward: Kiev simply refuses to respect the February 2015 Minsk Agreement.
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