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Biden told Putin he’d send Ukraine more weapons if it’s attacked

President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the US and its allies would take “strong measures to respond to an attack on Ukraine, as tensions surge over Moscow’s massing of troops on the border of the Eastern European nation.

During a two-hour video call with Putin, Biden “told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in Washington.

In addition, Biden told Putin that the US would “provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians, above and beyond that which we are already providing if Russia attacks, Sullivan said.

Putin pushed back against Biden’s warnings over a Russian threat to Ukraine, blaming NATO for the increase in tensions through its “dangerous efforts to expand into Ukraine and ratchet up its military potential on Russia’s borders, the Kremlin said in a statement.

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The Russian leader reiterated that Moscow wants binding security guarantees that the US-led alliance won’t take in new members to the east or station offensive weapons close to Russia.

Putin also criticized the steady escalation of measures that have severely cut back Russia’s diplomatic presence in the US in recent years, forcing it to retaliate.

While noting that the two countries agreed to hold dialogue on their security disagreements, the Kremlin described the phone talk as “frank and businesslike.

The call between the two leaders followed a spike in tensions due to the buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border. US intelligence suggests Russia has drafted a plan for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 involving as many as 175,000 personnel along with armor, artillery and other equipment.

Sullivan said the US doesn’t believe that Putin has made a decision about attacking Ukraine. Russian officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that they are planning for war.

While a White House statement and Sullivan didn’t mention plans for a future in-person summit, the White House added that “the two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and the US will do so in close coordination with allies and partners.

Biden now plans to call the leaders of France, Italy, the UK and Germany to brief them on the conversations, the White House said. He’s expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday, Sullivan said.

The call on Tuesday was the fourth direct conversation between the leaders this year, including an in-person summit in Geneva.

Among the potential US options, if Russia invades Ukraine, is pressing Germany to agree to stop the contested Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, according to documents seen by Bloomberg and people familiar with the plans.

The Kremlin says it doesn’t intend to invade and accuses the US and its allies of expanding their military infrastructure into Ukraine in a way that Russia sees as threatening.

Before the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the reports of planned sanctions, saying the “emotional statements of recent days wouldn’t affect the talks.

“It’s obvious that if the presidents are having this conversation, they intend to discuss the issues and not drive things into a dead end, Peskov said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, while warning against expecting breakthroughs.

If there is an attack on Ukraine, US and European allies are also weighing penalties that would target Russia’s largest banks and the country’s ability to convert rubles into foreign currencies, including the dollar.

In a briefing Monday on Capitol Hill, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland faced push-back from senators who said the US was limiting its options to deter an invasion by not providing more weaponry to Ukraine and failing to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

While Russian officials have rejected suggestions that they are seeking to stoke a conflict, Putin has made clear that he views Western military support for Ukraine — especially the possibility of greater integration with the NATO alliance — as a “red line. And Russian officials have accused the government in Kyiv of planning to attack Russia-backed separatists that Russia supports in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukraine rejects those charges.

Before the call, the Kremlin said Putin would push his proposal for legally binding security guarantees that NATO wouldn’t expand further eastward and wouldn’t deploy offensive weapons in the region. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that Putin has no say in NATO’s membership.

Biden was expected to tell Putin that there would be benefits for Russia if he decides against military action and instead pursues diplomacy, according to the senior US official. The US president also planned to press Putin on separate issues, including assistance reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and continued cyberattacks originating from Russia.

The tensions between the US and Russia were evident in Stockholm last week, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, got into a testy exchange at a private dinner with dozens of other officials over each side’s interpretation of who was to blame over the current state of affairs in Ukraine.

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Explainer: What’s the four-nation Quad, where did it come from?

Leaders of the US, Japan, Australia and India gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday for a summit of the “Quad.” What is the group, where did it come from and why do diplomats keep coming up with strange names for various partnerships?

What is the quad?

Formally the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad began as a loose partnership after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, when the four countries joined together to provide humanitarian and disaster assistance to the affected region.

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It was formalized by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but then fell dormant for nearly a decade, particularly amid Australian concerns that its participation in the group would irritate China.

The group was resurrected in 2017, reflecting changing attitudes in the region toward China’s growing influence. Both the Trump and Biden administrations saw the Quad as key to a pivot toward placing more focus on the Indo-Pacific region, particularly as a counterweight to China’s assertive actions. The Quad leaders held their first formal summit in 2021 and met again virtually in March.

Is it an “Asian NATO”?

China has complained that the group represents an attempt at forming an “Asian NATO,” though unlike the European alliance there is no mutual-defense pact in effect. Quad members say the group is meant to deepen economic, diplomatic and military ties among the four countries.

And while they don’t often explicitly say it, those partnerships are meant to be a bulwark against Chinese aggression.

In a March 2021 declaration laying out the “Spirit of the Quad,” the leaders said, “We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.”

Who are the new faces?

Tuesday’s meeting marks the first in-person gathering of the group for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office last October, as well as for Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese. He was sworn-in on Monday, just two days after Australia’s parliamentary election and one day before the summit.

What about India?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending as he faces increasing global scrutiny over his government’s crackdown on minorities and some authoritarian tendencies.

In addition, while the other members of the Quad have been united in standing up against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially with sanctions, India increased its purchases of Russian energy supplies after the invasion.

Moreover, the invasion has led to food shortages that are causing price spikes, yet India banned wheat exports following a heat wave that could make this global challenge much tougher to resolve.

Who else is involved?

South Korea has expressed interest in joining the Quad, though US officials have said they are not contemplating adjusting the group’s membership. The group has held “Quad-plus” meetings that have included South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam, which could form the basis for future expansion or partnership in the region.

Why the odd name?

Diplomats can’t help themselves. Once they start up different pairings or partnerships, they can’t resist assigning shorthand names like the Quad or baffling acronyms like AUKUS (the new Australia- UK-US alliance.) Another acronym that got attention this week while President Joe Biden was in Asia: IPEF, short for the US-proposed new trade pact called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

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Dutch police arrest suspected Syrian pro-government militia member

Dutch police arrested a 34-year-old man suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity as a member of a pro-government, non-Shia militia in Syria on Tuesday, the public prosecution service said.

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The man, who was not named, had been living in the Netherlands since 2020 and had applied for asylum there.

It is the first time the Dutch authorities have arrested a war crimes suspect accused of fighting on the side of the government of president Bashar al-Assad during the conflict.

“The suspect is said to have been part of the pro-regime militia Liwa al-Quds, that works closely with the Syrian intelligence services and the Russian armed forces,” the public prosecution service said in a statement.

The suspect was involved in the violent arrest of a Syrian citizen who was later tortured in a prison run by Syrian Air Force intelligence, according to prosecutors.

Previously the Dutch courts have convicted several Syrian nationals of war crimes who were members of opposition militias in Syria.

Such cases are prosecuted in the Netherlands under “universal jurisdiction” principles, which say suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted abroad if they cannot be tried in country where they were allegedly committed.

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Finland, Sweden to send teams to Turkey to discuss NATO bids

Finland and Sweden will send delegations to Ankara on Wednesday to try to resolve Turkish opposition to their applications for membership of the NATO military alliance, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.
Ankara’s objections have put the brakes on what Sweden and Finland hoped would be a quick accession process as the two countries look to shore up their security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We understand that Turkey has some of their own security concerns vis-a-vis terrorism,” Haavisto said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
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“We think that these issues can be settled. There might be also some issues that are not linked directly to Finland and Sweden but more to other NATO members.”
Turkey says Sweden and Finland harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that talks would start on Wednesday.
On Monday, Turkey outlined five conditions for it to back Sweden’s NATO membership bid, demanding that Sweden lift sanctions against Turkey, including an arms export embargo; end “political support for terrorism”; eliminate sources of terrorism financing and halt arms support to the PKK and its armed Syrian offshoot YPG, according to a list published by the president’s directorate of communications.
“Sweden, which has applied for membership, is expected to take principled steps and provide concrete assurances regarding Turkey’s security concerns,” the directorate said in the statement.
“Since 2017, our country has requested the extradition of PKK/PYD and FETO terrorists from Sweden but has yet to receive a positive response,” it said, referring to Syria’s main Kurdish party PYD and Gulen’s group FETO in addition to PKK.
A Turkish official said Turkey would not backtrack in its talks with Sweden and Finland unless concrete progress was made to address Ankara’s security concerns, adding it was not separately negotiating with Washington over the Nordic countries.
“There are a number of diplomatic initiatives ongoing,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a statement. “We have no further comments.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has objected to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, held phone calls with the leaders of the two Nordic countries on Saturday and discussed his concerns.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said the talks were “open and direct.”
“I stated that as NATO allies Finland and Turkey will commit to each other’s security and our relationship will thus grow stronger,” Niinisto tweeted after the call.
Erdogan spoke also with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Saturday, telling him that Ankara would not look positively on Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids unless they clearly show cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other issues.
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