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Putin told me Russia will not escalate Ukraine crisis, says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures while speaking during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, February 8 2022 (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) 
Associated Press Reporters

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin told him he would not further escalate the Ukraine crisis in their marathon talks at the Kremlin a day earlier.

Mr Macron’s remarks on a visit to Kyiv came after the Kremlin denied reports that he and Mr Putin struck a deal on de-escalating the crisis.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals”.

Mr Macron met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid mounting fears of a Russian invasion of its southern neighbour. Moscow has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, but insists it has no plans to attack.

The Kremlin wants guarantees from the West that Nato will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members, that it halt weapon deployments there and roll back its forces from eastern Europe – demands the US and Nato reject as non-starters.

At a news conference after his meeting with Mr Zelensky, Mr Macron said Mr Putin told him during their more than five-hour meeting on Monday that “he won’t be initiating an escalation. I think it is important”.

According to the French president, Mr Putin also said there will not be any Russian “permanent (military) base” or “deployment” in Belarus, where Russia had sent a large amount of troops for major war games that are about to kick off.

Mr Macron said both Mr Putin and Mr Zelensky confirmed to him that they were willing to implement the so-called Minsk agreements aimed at ending the separatist conflict in the eastern Ukraine. The 2015 peace deal is “the only path allowing to build peace… and find a sustainable political solution”.

Mr Macron said the presidential advisers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet on Thursday in Berlin to discuss the next steps.

He said dialogue is the only way to ease tensions, yet “it will take time to get results”.

Western leaders in recent weeks have engaged in multiple rounds of diplomacy in the hope of de-escalating the tensions and preventing an attack.

High-level talks have taken place against the backdrop of military drills in Russia and Belarus. On Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry said six large landing ships were moving from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea for exercises.

Mr Macron said he did not expect Mr Putin to make any “gestures” on Monday, saying his objective was to “prevent an escalation and open new perspectives… That objective is met.”

Mr Macron said Mr Putin “set a collective trap” when he initiated the exchange of written documents with the US. Moscow submitted its demands to Washington in the form of draft agreements that were released to the public, and insisted on a written response, which was leaked to the press.

“In the history of diplomacy, there was never a crisis that has been settled by exchanges of letters which are to be made public afterwards,” he said, adding that is why he decided to travel to Moscow for direct talks.

Mr Putin said after the meeting that the US and Nato ignored Moscow’s demands, but signalled his readiness to continue talking.

Nato, US and European leaders flatly reject the demands that they say challenge Nato’s core principles, such as shutting the door to Ukraine or other countries that might seek membership; but they have offered to talk about other Russian security concerns in Europe.

Mr Putin warned that Ukraine membership in Nato could trigger a war between Russia and the alliance should Kyiv move to retake the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. In that case, he said, European countries would be drawn into a military conflict with Russia where “there will be no winners”.

US President Joe Biden has said that any prospect of Ukraine entering Nato “in the near term is not very likely”, but he and other Nato member nations and Nato itself refuse to rule out Ukraine’s entry into the alliance at a future date.

Mr Biden met in Washington on Monday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also will travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14 and 15.

Mr Biden vowed that the Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, which has been completed but is not yet operating, will be blocked “if Russia invades, that means tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again”.

Halting the pipeline’s operation would hurt Russia economically but also cause supply problems for Germany.

Mr Scholz warned Moscow that “a lot more could happen than they’ve perhaps calculated with themselves” in case of an invasion.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine will only make Nato stronger, but said he still believes “principled and determined diplomacy” could defuse the crisis.

Writing in The Times, Mr Johnson urged allies to finalise plans for heavy economic sanctions that would come into effect if Russia crosses the border into Ukraine.

He said the UK is ready to bolster Nato forces in Latvia and Estonia as he prepared to meet the Lithuanian prime minister in London to show support for the Baltic nations.

Mr Johnson said he was considering dispatching RAF Typhoon fighters and Royal Navy warships to south-eastern Europe.

Britain said on Monday it is sending 350 troops to Poland to bolster Nato’s eastern flank. It has already sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

More than 100 US military personnel have arrived in Romania ahead of a deployment of about 1,000 Nato troops expected in the country in the coming days, said Romania’s defence minister, Vasile Dincu, adding that “it won’t be long before the rest of the troops arrive”.

US officials have said that about 1,000 alliance troops will be sent from Germany to Romania, a Nato member since 2004. Romania borders Ukraine to the north. About 1,700 US soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are also going to Poland.

US officials have portrayed the threat of an invasion of Ukraine as imminent – warnings Moscow has scoffed at, accusing Washington of fuelling tensions.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president was ousted, Moscow annexed Crimea and then backed a separatist insurgency in the east of the country.

The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed more than 14,000 people.

In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal, known as the Minsk agreements, that ended large-scale hostilities but failed to bring a political settlement of the conflict.

The Kremlin has repeatedly accused Kyiv of sabotaging the deal, and Ukrainian officials in recent weeks said that implementing it would hurt Ukraine.

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