Germany, US urge Russia to pull back troops near Ukraine
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joe Biden spoke by phone, discussing the security situation in Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as the COVID pandemic.
US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone late on Wednesday.
Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the two leaders agreed that it was necessary to call on Russia to reduce the latest troop reinforcements near the border to Ukraine, "in order to achieve a deescalation of the situtation."
Russia and Ukraine conducted simultaneous military drills not far from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, as NATO foreign and defense ministers convened virtually to discuss the build-up of troops near Ukraine's border and in the annexed Crimea.
'Concern about build-up of Russian troops'
"The leaders expressed concern about the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine's border and in occupied Crimea, and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House's readout of the call said.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Biden had stressed the consequences of Russia's activities during his phone call with Putin on Tuesday, when he suggested that the two leaders should meet.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was asked about the developments in Ukraine on ARD public television on Wednesday evening.
"My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction," Kramp-Karrenbauer said. "Together with Ukraine, we won't be drawn into this game."
The Kremlin has responded to repeated calls to relocate its troops by saying it's a domestic matter where its forces are deployed on Russian soil, also saying they're posted in response to more frequent ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month urged NATO to map out a faster path to entry for Kyiv, albeit only receiving assurances of continued support during talks with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg.
According to Turkish diplomatic sources and the Anadolu news agency on Wednesday, the US had canceled plans to deploy two warships to the Black Sea — mooted earlier in April in response to the tensions in Ukraine.
'Continued political engagement' in Afghanistan
Merkel and Biden also discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, after Biden and later NATO announced plans to begin withdrawing foreign forces from the country on May 1, to complete the process by September 11, 2021, 20 years after the 9/11 attacks that swiftly led to the conflict.
"They underlined the importance of close coordination and cooperation, as well as a continued political engagement in the country," Merkel's spokesman Seibert said.
The call also followed soon after Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III became the first senior Biden administration official to visit Germany for talks with his counterpart Kramp-Karrenbauer.
'Global and fair access to COVID vaccines'
Merkel and Biden on Wednesday also discussed the continued efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Seibert: "They stressed the importance of global and fair access to vaccines, which both countries wish to continue to advocate."
US limits on vaccine exports had courted some criticism in Europe, while the EU itself has been tightening the screws when it comes to vaccine exports in recent weeks amid increased pressure over its sluggish vaccination rollout.
msh/jf (AFP, dpa, Reuters)