White House: Putin calls Obama, discuss Ukraine, Islamic State, Iran

In Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) arrive for the opening of the Army-2015 international military show in Kubinka, outside Moscow, on June 16. The show features the latest Russian weapons.

WASHINGTON—Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday and discussed continued tensions in eastern Ukraine and the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East. The last time the men spoke was in February, the White House said.

Both the White House and the Kremlin offered similar statements describing the conversation, on Thursday evening. The White House said Putin initiated the call to Obama.

The White House said Obama told Putin Russia needs to meet commitments it made in Minsk, Belarus, earlier this year, including the removal of troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin said the two leaders agreed that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin will discuss implementation of these agreements.

The call came on the same day North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (Nato) supreme allied commander cited a continuous flow of ammunition and other military supplies from Russia across the border to Ukraine. The Kremlin said the two men devoted “significant attention” to confronting terrorism and the IS, in particular, and agreed to have Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet to review the issue.

The White House and the Kremlin said the two leaders also addressed continued bloodshed in Syria and agreed on the importance of unity among the six world powers that are negotiating to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

The call from Putin came just days after the Russian leader spoke with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the situation in eastern Ukraine, a day before the Paris talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine.

France and Germany cosponsored February’s peace deal that helped reduce hostilities between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian troops, but fighting again escalated in recent weeks.

Putin isn’t finished using his military in eastern Ukraine, the top US military commander for Nato said on Thursday as the US and its allies outlined additional support for Kiev, including aid in defusing roadside bombs. US Gen. Philip Breedlove, Nato’s supreme allied commander, said there continues to be a constant flow of ammunition and other military supplies from Russia across the border to Ukraine, and a well-trained and ready Russian force.

“Mr. Putin is very clear that he does not want Kiev leaning to the West and that he will use the appropriate force necessary to keep Kiev from leaning to the West, and so for that reason, as you know, Kiev remains leaning to the west,” Breedlove told reporters in Brussels. “And so, I don’t think Mr. Putin is done in eastern Ukraine.”

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier warned of a return to heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine and said the alliance is creating a new trust fund that will help pay for the effort to remove mines and detect and destroy improvised explosive devices. Those steps, he said, will be vital for saving lives in a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people.

In addition, he said, Nato is working to better secure the airspace in the region. He said Poland, Norway and Turkey will be sharing more airport traffic-control data with Ukraine, which is critical because it’s “an area which is unstable and where we see fighting going on, on the ground.” A Malaysian airliner leaving Amsterdam was mistakenly shot down over eastern Ukraine last year.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, meanwhile, gave allies more details on the military support the US will provide to a Nato rapid response task force.  The US, he said, will commit to sending troops, aircraft and other equipment in 10 different categories, including special operations forces, intelligence and surveillance, transportation, refueling, Air Force and Navy aircraft and support, precision weapons, combat helicopters and a command post.


Image Credits: Vasily Maximov/pool photo via AP