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08 February 2022

Macron holding talks in Kyiv after five-hour meeting with Putin

08 February 2022

Diplomatic efforts to defuse the tensions around Ukraine have continued with French President Emmanuel Macron arriving in Kyiv the day after hours of talks with the Russian leader in Moscow yielded no apparent breakthroughs.

Mr Macron met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as fears of a possible Russian invasion mount.

Moscow has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders but insists it has no plans to attack.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a joint news conference (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

Western leaders in recent weeks have engaged in high-level 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 under way in Russia and about to start in Belarus. On Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry said six large landing ships were moving from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, where they will take part in the exercises.

Mr Macron sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday for talks that lasted more than five hours.

After the long meeting, the two leaders emphasised the need for more talks while also registering their disagreements.

Mr Putin noted that the US and Nato have ignored Moscow’s demands but signalled his readiness to continue the negotiations.

He also warned that Ukraine’s accession to Nato could trigger a war between Russia and the alliance.

“If Ukraine becomes a Nato member and moves to reclaim Crimea, European countries will automatically be drawn into a military conflict with Russia,” Mr Putin said, noting that “there will be no winners”.

Mr Macron said he had a “substantial, deep” discussion with Mr Putin, with a focus on conditions that could help de-escalation.

“We tried to build converging elements,” he said. “The upcoming days will be crucial and deep discussions together will be needed.”

He added that it is Europe’s duty to find a solution to try to rebuild neighbourly ties with Russia.

In Washington, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met US President Joe Biden on Monday. Mr Scholz will also travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15.

President Joe Biden listens as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House (Alex Brandon/AP) (AP)

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”.

The move 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.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Russia that invading 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.

Ukrainian troops in a trench amid high tensions near the border with Russia (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP) (AP)

Britain said on Monday it is sending 350 troops to Poland as part of efforts to bolster Nato forces in eastern Europe. It has already sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

US officials have painted the threat of an offensive on Ukraine as imminent — warnings Moscow has scoffed at, accusing Washington of fuelling the tensions around Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter tug-of-war since 2014, when, following the ousting of Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president, Moscow annexed Crimea and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the east of the country.

The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the east has since killed over 14,000 people.

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

The Kremlin has repeatedly accused Kyiv of sabotaging implementation of the agreements, and Ukrainian officials in recent weeks said that implementing them would be detrimental for the country.

After his meeting with Mr Macron on Monday, Mr Putin said without elaboration that some of the French president’s proposals could serve as a basis for a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, adding that they agreed to have a call after Mr Macron’s visit to Kyiv on Tuesday.

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