Joe Biden said there was a “plenty of room for diplomacy” to resolve the Ukraine crisis, bolstering hopes that there was still time for talks that would lead to Russia stepping back from an invasion of its neighbor.
Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, the US president said Russia had amassed about 150,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, and remained “very much in a threatening position.” But Biden shied away from the most strident warnings of an “immediate” assault described by some of his top officials in recent days.
“We should give diplomacy every chance to succeed,” Biden said in remarks on Tuesday afternoon. “And I believe there are real ways to address our respective security concerns.”
He said the US had not yet verified whether Russian military units were “returning to their home bases” as Moscow had announced earlier in the day, which had fueled expectations that a child was at hand.
Biden’s speech came amid another day of intensive international diplomacy aimed at heading off a potential invasion.
After three hours of talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, said Moscow was drawing down some troops from border areas to enable “dialogue” with the west while still keeping the threat of invasion hanging over its neighbor.
Putin said he was prepared to hold negotiations on intermediate nuclear missile forces and confidence-building measures with the west if the US and NATO agreed to discuss Moscow’s grievances with the transatlantic alliance – including its chief demand that it pledge never to admit Ukraine.
Speaking alongside Putin, Scholz said diplomatic options were “not by any means exhausted”.
“The fact that we’re now hearing that some troops are being withdrawn is a good sign, and we hope that more will follow,” the German chancellor said.
Biden also suggested there was still scope for compromise with Russia on Europe’s security architecture – even though the US has rejected Moscow’s demands to back away from their open-door policy with regards to NATO membership. But he hinted that there could be an acceptable formula for all countries involved.
“We will not sacrifice basic principles. Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity and the freedom to set their own course and choose with whom they will associate, ”Biden said. “But that still leaves plenty of room for diplomacy and for escalation as the best way forward for all parties in our view.”