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Macron hopes for 'start towards de-escalation' in Putin talks on Ukraine

By AFP - Feb 07,2022 - Last updated at Feb 07,2022

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday (AFP photo)

MOSCOW — French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he hoped to make a start towards a de-escalation of tensions over Ukraine, as he met Russian leader Vladimir Putin for talks in Moscow.

Macron flew into Moscow at the start of a week of intense Western diplomacy aimed at easing fears of a Russian invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

Sitting across a long table from Putin at the Kremlin, Macron said he was in Moscow to address the "critical situation" in Europe.

"This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is towards a de-escalation," Macron said, calling for "an answer that is useful for both Russia and for all the rest of Europe".

Welcoming Macron as "dear Emmanuel", Putin said Russia and France have "shared concerns regarding security in Europe" and hailed "how much effort the current French leadership is making" to resolve these concerns.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops camped near the Ukrainian border, Macron was the first top Western leader to meet Putin since the crisis began in December.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was due to meet on Monday with US President Joe Biden in Washington, as Western leaders look to maintain a united front in their biggest showdown with Russia since the end of the Cold War.

Russia denies invasion plans 

US officials say Moscow has assembled 110,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is on track to amass a large enough force — some 150,000 soldiers — for a full-scale invasion by mid-February.

Russia insists it has no plans to attack and has instead put forward its own demands for security guarantees that it says would ease tensions.

Macron, who will go on to Kyiv on Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told reporters on his plane from Paris that he was "reasonably" optimistic going into the talks.

He did not expect a solution to the crisis in the "short term", he said, but he was ready to take Russia's security concerns seriously.

Moscow has accused the West, in particular Washington and NATO, of ignoring what it says are legitimate concerns for its security.

It is demanding a permanent ban on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, joining the US-led alliance and that the bloc roll back its military presence in eastern Europe.

Macron, whose country currently heads the European Union has tried to position himself as the key EU figure in negotiations with Russia.

He is expected to try to push forward a stalled peace plan for the festering conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and could make offers to Russia for consultations on arms control and NATO expansion.

Biden has reacted to the Russian troop build-up by offering 3,000 American forces to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, with a batch of the troops arriving in Poland on Sunday.


‘Most dangerous moment’ 


Britain said on Monday that 350 more British troops would be sent to the Polish border and Germany announced that another 350 of its soldiers would go to Lithuania.

“We are living, to my understanding, the most dangerous moment for security in Europe after the end of the Cold War,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a joint news conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Questioned about US warnings of an imminent Russian invasion, Blinken denied Washington’s stance was alarmist, saying: “This is not alarmism. This is simply the facts.”

While Scholz is in Washington, his foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, was in Kyiv along with her Czech, Slovak and Austrian counterparts for a two-day visit.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a joint press conference with Baerbock that Ukraine and its Western allies would never be divided.

“No one, no matter how hard anyone tries in Russia, will be able to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its partners,” he said.

Scholz himself will be in Moscow and Kyiv next week for talks with Putin and Zelensky.

Visits to Moscow by the British foreign and defence secretaries are also expected at the end of this week.


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