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French President Emmanuel Macron has indicated that – although resolving the impasse over Moscow’s troop build-up near the border with Ukraine could take months – there is room for progress after holding talks with Russian and Ukrainian leaders.
“We now have the opportunity to advance these negotiations” between Russia and Ukraine, Macron said after meeting in Kiev on February 8 with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, adding that he also saw “solutions concrete and practical” to reduce tensions between Moscow and the West.
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Macron gave no details of the talks and said no one should be “naive” about Russia’s “unprecedented” buildup of more than 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine.
“By adopting this threatening posture, Russia has decided to put pressure on the international community,” Macron said the day after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“We cannot underestimate the moment of tension we are living in,” he added, before continuing his shuttle diplomacy to Berlin, where he was due to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, while just got back from Washington.
Tensions over Moscow’s military moves, which Washington and some European countries fear could be a prelude to an invasion of Ukraine, have sparked a high-stakes game of global diplomacy.
Moscow insists it has no intention of attacking Ukraine, but has continued to take provocative military measures while demanding guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept the Ukraine and other former Soviet countries as members, that he will stop the deployments of weapons there and that he will also roll back his forces from Eastern Europe.
Washington and NATO both dismissed the requests as non-starters.
Macron said earlier that he had made proposals for “concrete security guarantees” to Putin and that the Russian leader had assured him of his “readiness to engage in this direction and his will to maintain stability and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
“I got there to be no degradation or escalation,” Macron told reporters upon arriving in Kyiv, describing his talks with Putin.
In the press conference with Macron, Zelenskiy struck a more cautious note, saying Ukraine is waiting for concrete steps from Putin to prove he is serious about de-escalating tensions and withdrawing Russian troops from the border .
“The opening is always great, if it’s true and not a game, but a serious opening, not a joke, and understanding that there is a serious danger,” Zelenskiy said.
“I don’t really trust words. I believe that every politician can be transparent by taking concrete action,” he added.
The French presidential office said Macron had proposed that the two sides pledge not to take further military action while launching a strategic dialogue.
He also said an agreement would provide for the withdrawal of some 30,000 Russian troops from Belarus at the end of joint military exercises later this month.
US officials say Russia has deployed some 110,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is on track to muster a large enough force – some 150,000 troops – for a full-scale invasion by the middle. of the month.
Putin said after the talks that Moscow would “do everything to find compromises that suit everyone”, adding that several proposals put forward by Macron could form a basis for moving the Ukraine crisis forward.
“A number of his ideas, proposals… are possible as a basis for further steps,” Putin said, adding that he and Macron would talk to each other again by phone after the French president’s talks with Zelenskiy.
US President Joe Biden held his own crisis talks with Scholz in Washington on February 7 as the wave of diplomacy over Russian troop buildups near Ukraine spanned two continents.
The two leaders underlined their unity and confidence as they work to further deter Russian aggression in Europe. Biden said Germany and the United States were “in phase” as they worked to resolve tensions.
In the event of an invasion of Ukraine, Biden also vowed to “terminate” the disputed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which was built to deliver Russian gas to Germany but has not yet entered service.
Scholz said Germany and the United States would act together in their response to any Russian invasion, which Moscow denies planning. He said the two countries are ready to adopt severe and far-reaching measures in the event of an invasion.
Scholz will continue his diplomatic efforts next week, visiting Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15. Germany has been criticized by Kiev for refusing to send military equipment to Ukraine.
In a separate development, the Russian Defense Ministry said on February 8 that six of its warships headed for the Black Sea from the Mediterranean for naval exercises in what he said was a pre-planned movement of military resources.
Russia announced last month that its navy would hold an extensive series of exercises involving all of its fleets in January and February.
The six ships are expected to cross the Turkish Strait to the Black Sea on February 8-9, Turkish sources said.