German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo from 2015 )
U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed that a reduction of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine would help de-escalate tensions in the region, Merkel’s office said in a statement.
"The chancellor and the president agreed it is necessary to demand Russia draw down its latest troop reinforcements in order to de-escalate the situation," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said after the two leaders spoke by phone on April 14.
Recent photographs, video, and other data suggest major movements of Russian armed units toward or near Ukraine’s border and into Crimea, fueling concerns that Russia is preparing to send forces into Ukraine.
The call between Biden and Merkel came after NATO ministers met on a videoconference call and discussed the Russian troop buildup, which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called the largest massing of Russian troops since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Stoltenberg said the NATO members are calling on Russia to "stop its pattern of aggressive provocations."
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine has been supplied with equipment and training for some time and the United States would continue such support as needed.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier on April 14 accused Russia of trying to increase tension along the border, and William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), told a U.S. Senate committee that the United States and its allies must take the buildup seriously.
Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television that her impression is that Russia “is trying everything to provoke a reaction.”
It is clear that Russia "is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from NATO, to have a pretext to continue its actions," she added.
Russia has insisted that it sent troops to its western borders for combat drills because of "threats" from the transatlantic alliance NATO.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer also cast doubt that claim, saying if it is a maneuver, “there are international procedures through which one can create transparency and trust."
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
Burns told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia has amassed sufficient military forces and equipment on the border to allow a Russian incursion into the country.
Burns, a former ambassador to Russia, said the buildup “has reached a point that it could provide the basis for limited military incursions [into Ukraine]," noting his experience with Moscow.
“Most of my white hair came from dealing with Putin’s Russia over the years so one thing I’ve learned is not to underestimate the ways in which President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian leadership can throw [their] weight around,” Burns told the committee.
With tensions rising, U.S. President Joe Biden proposed a summit with Putin, an offer that Russia is still considering.
With reporting by AFP and C-SPAN