Macron, Putin hold phone call to avert war in Ukraine

Published on Feb 21, 2022 02:45 AM IST

In a separate call earlier on Sunday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed possible ways to secure immediate de-escalation.

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during the exercises by nuclear forces in an unknown location in Russia. REUTERS
A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during the exercises by nuclear forces in an unknown location in Russia. REUTERS
Agencies |

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine in a phone call on Sunday, the Kremlin said.

“In view of the urgency of the situation, the Presidents acknowledged the need to intensify the search for solutions through diplomatic means via the foreign ministries and political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy format,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

They agreed to work for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, Macron’s office said. In a phone call lasting 105 minutes, they agreed on “the need to favour a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis and to do everything to achieve one”, Macron’s office said, adding that French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov would meet “in the coming days”. The talks are seen as “the final possible and necessary efforts to avoid a major conflict in Ukraine”, Macron’s office said.

In a separate call earlier on Sunday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed possible ways to secure immediate de-escalation.

It comes a day after Zelenskiy told Macron that he would not respond to what he called Russia’s “provocations”, according to the French president’s office, and remained open to “dialogue” with Moscow. But in a speech to the Munich Security Conference he also called on western governments to stop what he said was “a policy of appeasement” towards Putin.

‘Biden ready to meet Putin to prevent war’

US President Joe Biden is willing to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin “at any time” to prevent a war in Ukraine, according to his top diplomat who said on Sunday Russia appeared on the verge of invading its neighbour.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken told CNN “everything we’re seeing suggests that this is dead serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion”.

Aggressive military action has already begun in and around Ukraine, which is facing increased shelling from Russia-backed rebels and a force of what Blinken and Western capitals say is more than 150,000 Russian troops on its borders.

“But until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” Blinken said.

In Ukraine, more bombardments were heard by AFP reporters overnight close to the frontline between government forces and the Moscow-backed rebels who hold parts of the districts of Lugansk and Donetsk.

And in Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, Russian military exercises were continuing, Minsk announced on Sunday, further ramping up the pressure on an already tense situation. Blinken said that was just one of several signs that Moscow is gearing up for an invasion, with Putin “following the script almost to the letter”.

“It tells us that the playbook that we laid out, I laid out at the UN Security Council last week, about Russia trying to create a series of provocations as justifications for aggression against Ukraine, is going forward,” Blinken said.

The US has told allies that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would potentially see it target multiple cities beyond the capital Kiev, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Cities that could also come under attack include Kharkiv in the northeast and the seaport cities of Odessa and Kherson in the south, said the people.

Moscow continues to deny it plans to invade Ukraine, and said it’s already pulling troops back from areas near the border.

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