Putin calls Obama to discuss Ukraine, ISIS

A lieutenant-colonel graduating from the Ukrainian National University of Defence in Kiev yesterday. The crisis in Ukraine has killed 6,500 people in a little over a year.
A lieutenant-colonel graduating from the Ukrainian National University of Defence in Kiev yesterday. The crisis in Ukraine has killed 6,500 people in a little over a year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON - Russian President Vladimir Putin has called his US counterpart Barack Obama to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, the advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and a deal on Iran's nuclear programme.

The crisis in Ukraine has triggered the worst standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War, and the US earlier this week said it would deploy heavy weapons in central and eastern Europe for the first time.

Mr Putin, who has consistently denied backing the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, initiated the phone call with Mr Obama on Thursday, according to the White House. The call was the first between the estranged leaders since February.

"President Obama reiterated the need for Russia to fulfil its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory," the White House said in a statement.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin agreed to have his Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Grigory Karasin, talk with Ms Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state, about the fulfilment of the Minsk accord.

The crisis in Ukraine has killed 6,500 people in a little over a year and a peace deal struck in Minsk, Belarus, in February has unravelled.

Mr Obama and Mr Putin also discussed Syria, where ISIS has made rapid gains, as well as historic negotiations between world powers and Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.

Mr Putin's decision to call Mr Obama and focus on Syria and Iran may reflect a desire to assert his continuing importance on the world stage, despite Russia's isolation and failure to break the Western consensus on sanctions.

The US and Russia have been at odds over Syria. Moscow supports the government of President Bashar Assad while Mr Obama has called for his resignation. US officials hope Mr Putin may see the rise of ISIS as enough of a threat to now be willing to apply pressure on Mr Assad, but they also suspect his renewed interest in the issue may be a way of distracting from Ukraine.

On Thursday, Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work, speaking in the House of Representatives, said Russia is "playing with fire" with its nuclear sabre-rattling and the US is determined to prevent it from gaining a significant military advantage through violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. "Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire," Mr Work said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Putin calls Obama to discuss Ukraine, ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe