Russia rebukes the U.S. after Biden comments on potential NATO-Russia war

Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A top Russian official said U.S. President Joe Biden’s warning about a potential direct clash between the U.S. and Russia “is unacceptable for a responsible nuclear power.”

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, commented on Telegram Thursday that the U.S. was trying to “‘add fuel’ to the fire of the Ukrainian war ‘by proxy.'”

Russia has repeatedly claimed that the war in Ukraine is a “proxy war” and that the country is being used by its Western allies, such as NATO, to try to “defeat” Russia. NATO, which has supplied large amounts of military aid to Ukraine, says it is helping Kyiv to defend its territorial sovereignty after Russia’s unprovoked invasion in early 2022.

“They have completely lost touch with reality, easily talking about the likelihood of a direct clash between the armed forces of our countries,” Antonov wrote.

“This kind of provocative rhetoric is unacceptable for a responsible nuclear power,” the official added. 

Antonov’s comments came after Biden pleaded with Republicans on Wednesday for a fresh tranche of military aid for Ukraine, warning that a victory for Russia in Ukraine would strengthen Moscow to such an extent that it could then attack NATO allies and draw U.S. troops into a war.

“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden said, Reuters reported. Russia could then attack a NATO ally, he warned, and then “we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops,” Biden said.

“We can’t let Putin win,” he said.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. repeated claims that “Washington and its insatiable military-industrial complex are the direct beneficiaries of the bloodshed in Ukraine” and that Washington was “wreaking havoc around the world just to save American hegemony from decline.”

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. Senate Republican block Ukraine, Israel aid bill over border dispute

An emergency spending bill to provide billions of dollars in new security assistance for Ukraine and Israel was blocked in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as Republicans pressed their demands for tougher measures to control immigration at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The vote was 49 in favor to 51 against, leaving the $110.5 billion measure short of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to pave the way to start debate, threatening President Joe Biden’s push to provide new aid before the end of 2023.

The vote was along party lines, with every Senate Republican voting no along with Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who generally votes with Democrats but had expressed concerns about funding Israel’s “current inhumane military strategy” against Palestinians.

The bill would provide about $50 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine, as well as money for humanitarian and economic aid for the government in Kyiv, plus $14 billion for Israel as it battles Hamas in Gaza. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, also voted “no” so that he could introduce the measure again in the future.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters after the weekly senate party caucus luncheons at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., December 5, 2023. 

Ken Cedeno | Reuters

After the vote, Schumer noted the risks if Ukraine falls, saying it was a “serious moment that will have lasting consequences for the 21st century,” risking the decline of Western democracy. Republicans said it was essential to make their case for tighter immigration policies and control of the southern border.

“Today’s vote is what it takes for the Democratic leader to recognize that Senate Republicans mean what we say,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech earlier on Wednesday. “Then let’s vote. And then let’s finally start meeting America’s national security priorities, including right here at home.”

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it still would need to be approved in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where dozens of Republicans have voted against Ukraine aid, including Speaker Mike Johnson.

Reuters

Do not let Putin win, Biden pleads with Republicans on Ukraine

President Joe Biden pleaded with Republicans on Wednesday for a fresh infusion of military aid for Ukraine, warning that a victory for Russia over Ukraine would leave Moscow in position to attack NATO allies and could draw U.S. troops into a war.

Biden spoke as the United States planned to announce $175 million in additional Ukraine aid from its dwindling supply of money for Kyiv.

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on aid to Ukraine from the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2023. 

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

He signaled a willingness to make significant changes to U.S. migration policy along the border with Mexico to try to draw Republican support.

“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden said. Putin will attack a NATO ally, he predicted, and then “we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops,” Biden said.

“We can’t let Putin win,” he said, prompting an angry reaction from Moscow.

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted the Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying that Biden’s comments on a potential U.S.-Russia conflict were “provocative rhetoric unacceptable for a responsible nuclear power.”

However, Senate Republicans later on Wednesday blocked Democratic-backed legislation that would have provided billions of dollars in new security assistance for Ukraine and Israel, among other international concerns, saying they wanted to press their point about the importance of tighter border policy.

The White House warned this week that the U.S. is running out of time and money to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a phone interview with Reuters about building up Ukraine’s defense industrial base, said the U.S. was sticking to its long-held position not to pressure Ukraine into negotiations with Russia. “That’s going to have to be up to them. We’re just going to keep fighting day in and day out to try to secure this money,” Sullivan said.

“We’re going to keep making the case that it would be a historic mistake for the United States to walk away from Ukraine at this moment and we believe that argument will ultimately penetrate and prevail,” he said.

— Reuters

U.S. says Russia rejected proposal for release of Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich

Russia in recent weeks rejected a substantial new proposal for the release of Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, two Americans considered by the U.S. to be “wrongfully detained” in Russia, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday.

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying talks with his lawyers Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Kralova, as he stands in the courtroom cage after a ruling regarding extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. 

Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters

Miller declined to provide details on what Washington proposed and it was the first time the United States revealed such a proposal had been made. Whelan and Gershkovich have been charged in Russia with spying, which they deny.

“In recent weeks, we made a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan’s release. That proposal was rejected by Russia. We shouldn’t have to make these proposals. They never should have been arrested in the first place. They should both be released immediately,” Miller told reporters.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich looks out of an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his pre-trial detention on espionage charges in Moscow, Russia, October 10, 2023. 

Evgenia Novozhenina | Reuters

“It will not deter us from continuing to do everything we can to try and bring both of them home.” The proposal was not for other detainees, Miller said.

The Russian state news agency RIA on Wednesday quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as responding by saying: “We don’t discuss this topic in public.”

— Reuters

As Putin visits allies, Russia reasserts its influence in the Middle East

This pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Abu Dhabi on December 6, 2023.

Sergei Savostyanov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is making a rare trip abroad Wednesday as he meets with Moscow’s allies in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Here’s what’s on the agenda for the meeting, according to a readout from the Kremlin:

Talks with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan are expected to focus on the current state of multifaceted bilateral cooperation and the prospects for further expansion of ties, as well as current international issues, with an emphasis on the situation in the Middle East.

In Riyadh, Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. The talks will focus on the bilateral cooperation in trade, economic and investment spheres, and on various aspects of interaction in multilateral formats. The leaders will also exchange views on the regional and international agenda.

The working trip is Putin’s first visit to the region since October 2019, although Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have regular diplomatic ties and all belong to the major oil producing alliance known as OPEC+.

Russia’s visit to the Middle East sees it reasserting its diplomatic clout in the region, with Moscow occupying the rare position of being allies with regional arch-rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and surrounding countries such as Syria, Iraq and Qatar. Russia also enjoyed cordial relations with Israel but has become increasingly critical of the conflict in Gaza as the humanitarian crisis has worsened.

Putin is also set to welcome Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Moscow Thursday, with analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noting Tuesday that Putin’s “bout of diplomatic outreach” was “likely focused on strengthening Russia’s position with Gulf States while continuing to solidify the deepening Russian–Iranian security partnership.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia repeats that it’s ready for negotiations with Ukraine

Moscow has repeated that it’s ready for talks with Ukraine, with the Kremlin’s spokesman claiming Russia would prefer to negotiate through “political and diplomatic means.”

“The President has repeatedly said that the main thing for us is to achieve our goals [in Ukraine],” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told RTVI, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

“And, of course, we would prefer to do this primarily through political and diplomatic means. That’s why we remain ready for negotiations.”

TOPSHOT – Pedestrians walk past a New Year decoration stylised as the “Kremlin Star”, bearing a Z letter, a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, in Moscow on January 02, 2023. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP) (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Peskov again reiterated Moscow’s criticism of Ukraine for pulling out of previous negotiations. Kyiv has said it won’t hold talks with Moscow while Russian troops remain on its territory.

The Kremlin representative also commented on a report in the Izvestia newspaper, which stated that negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv could resume on the territory of one of the Western countries — for example, in Hungary. Peskov said that the idea could theoretically materialize.

— Holly Ellyatt

UK announces new sanctions on Russia’s military suppliers

The U.K. announced 46 new sanctions Wednesday targeting individuals and groups that it accused of “supplying and funding Putin’s war machine.”

The sanctions include the targeting of businesses in Belarus, China, Serbia, Turkey, the UAE and Uzbekistan who continue to support Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement.

Russian weapons manufacturers and defense importers were also among the list of 46 new sanctions imposed as well as three entities and individuals supporting the Wagner Group network and operators of so-called “shadow fleet” vessels “used by Russia to soften the blow of oil-related sanctions imposed by the U.K. alongside G7 partners.”

“Today’s measures will disrupt Putin’s ability to equip his military through third-party supply chains in Belarus, China, Serbia, Turkey, the UAE and Uzbekistan,” the FCDO said.

Chinese companies are supplying Russia's military, analysis shows

Among those sanctioned today were 31 individuals and entities linked to Russia’s military industrial complex and the designing and manufacturing of drones and missile parts and the importing and supplying key electronic components.

The latest sanctions package comes as G7 leaders meet virtually to discuss and agree additional measures designed to reduce revenue streams that Russia needs to finance its war in Ukraine.

G7 leaders are expected to announce a ban on Russian diamonds and measures to manage some 300 billion euros ($323.58 billion) in immobilized Russian central bank assets, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin says Russia’s relations with the UAE have reached a new high

This pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Abu Dhabi on December 6, 2023.

Sergei Savostyanov | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s relations with the United Arab Emirates have reached an “unprecedented high level,” President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday as he began a working trip to the Middle East.

Putin prepared to begin negotiations with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan by calling the emirates Russia’s main trading partner in the Arab world.

“Today, thanks to your position, our relations have reached an unprecedented high level. And we are in constant contact, our colleagues are constantly working with each other,” Putin said at the start of talks.

This pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attending a meeting with President of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi on December 6, 2023. 

Sergei Savostyanov | Afp | Getty Images

Discussions are expected to focus on “the state and prospects for further development of multifaceted Russian-UAE cooperation, as well as current international issues with an emphasis on the state of affairs in the Middle East region,” the Kremlin said earlier.

In comments ahead of the talks, Putin said “we will discuss with you the situation in the hottest spots, first of all, of course, in the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Of course, I will inform you about the situation in the Ukrainian crisis,” he added.

— Holly Ellyatt

Support for Ukraine is shaken amid U.S. impasse over future funding

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a meeting with Romanian counterpart Klaus Iohannis at the Cotroceni presidential palace in Bucharest, Romania, on Oct. 10, 2023.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ukraine’s allies are trying to mount a show of support to Ukraine this week as the future of more military funding is in doubt.

Leaders of the Group of Seven countries are set to hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The war will be on the agenda, but the meeting comes amid bitter wrangling between U.S. lawmakers over an additional aid package of over $100 billion that would include aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as U.S. border security funding.

There are heightened concerns that if Ukraine does not receive more aid, it will not be able to continue fighting Russia’s invasion, a prospect worrying U.S. and Ukrainian officials as the summer counteroffensive is already deemed to have largely failed in its objectives.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday that the U.S. would be “responsible for Ukraine’s defeat” if Congress failed to approve the Biden administration’s multibillion-dollar funding request for Ukraine, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said Tuesday that there was a “big risk” that Ukraine would lose the war without further U.S. funding.

Zelenskyy canceled a virtual briefing with U.S. lawmakers Tuesday as the furore over future aid continued. No reason was given for the cancellation.

— Holly Ellyatt

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