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Biden-Putin talks set for tomorrow amid Ukraine tension

| President Biden will underscore US concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden will hold talks by video conference on tomorrow (Tuesday), the Kremlin and Washington said, as tensions rise over Ukraine. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Saturday the conversation would take place in the evening Russia time and the two leaders would determine its duration, according to Russian news agencies.

A statement from the White House also confirmed the talks, saying the leaders would discuss a range of issues by a secure video link.

“President Biden will underscore US concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement. Biden said Friday he would make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to launch any invasion of Ukraine, which had warned that a large-scale attack may be planned for next month.

Washington and Kiev say Moscow has massed troops near Ukraine’s borders and accuse Russia of planning an invasion. 

Russia has denied any bellicose intentions and accused the West of provocation, particularly with military exercises in the Black Sea, which it sees as part of its sphere of influence. Biden and Putin had been expected since Friday to hold a video call.

Moscow says Russian airliner diverted to avoid NATO spy plane

A Russian airliner had to change course to avoid a NATO spy plane that was crossing its path above the Black Sea, Moscow authorities have said.

The alleged spy plane “descended rapidly” across the planned route for a Tel Aviv-Moscow Aeroflot service with 142 people on board, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency said late Saturday according to news agency Interfax.

“The direction and altitude of the commercial flight were immediately altered” to avoid a collision, the agency said, adding that the unknown plane did not respond to radio hails from air traffic control.

Interfax reported that the Aeroflot flight had to drop 500 metres (1,600 feet) to keep its distance from the reconnaissance aircraft, which the pilots saw from the cockpit with the naked eye.

A second plane, a private jet flying from the Black Sea resort Sochi to Northern Macedonian capital Skopje, also had to divert to avoid the spy plane, the air transport authority said.

“Increased activity by NATO aircraft near Russia’s borders… creates a risk of dangerous accidents involving civilian aircraft,” the agency said, adding that it would lodge a diplomatic protest.

Russian authorities did not say which nation had operated the spy plane.

On Friday, Russian fighter jets were sent to escort two American spy aircraft over the Black Sea region, Russian media reported.

Saturday’s incident comes as tensions rise between Russia and Western nations, which accuse Moscow of massing troops on its border with Ukraine in preparation for an invasion.

Russia has denied it has any such plans, in turn accusing NATO countries of “provocations” including military exercises near its borders.