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Putin, Macron agree to ‘intensify’ diplomatic efforts on Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Maksim BLINOV, Ludovic MARIN, Johanna GERON AFP

Following separate Sunday telephone conversations with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, French leader Emmanuel Macron has said all parties are prepared to work towards a ceasefire in east Ukraine.

Putin has warned that the US and NATO must take Russia’s security demands ‘seriously’

Emmanuel Macron and the Russian leader spoke for 105 minutes on Sunday.

Putin blamed Kyiv for the military escalation in east Ukraine but said diplomatic efforts to find a resolution needed to intensify.

Putin “noted that the cause of the escalation is provocations carried out by the Ukrainian security forces,” according to a Kremlin version of the Paris call. The Kremlin response added that the two leaders “believe it is important to intensify efforts to find solutions through diplomatic means”.

The French president then spoke to the Ukranian leader separately.

All parties have agreed to continue to use diplomacy to resolve the crisis sparked by Kremlin fears of an eastwards expansion of the sphere of influence of NATO, the Cold War era defence alliance intended to counter a Soviet military threat.

There is to be a meeting of the tri-partite contact group involving Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as soon as that can be organised.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is to meet his Moscow counterpart, Serguei Lavrov, within the next few days.

US President Joe Biden is willing to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin “at any time” to defuse Ukraine war tensions, according to a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Russian troops to stay in Belarus

Russian military exercises in Belarus will continue, the authorities in Minsk announced Sunday, leaving Moscow with a large force near the northern Ukraine border

Moscow had previously said the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus were simply carrying out readiness drills with its ally, which would be finished by 20 February, allowing the Russians to return to their bases.

But, as the day arrived for the operation to end, the Belarus defence ministry said Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko had decided to “continue inspections”, citing increased military activity on their shared borders and an alleged “escalation” in east Ukraine.

The move will be seen as a further tightening of the screws on Ukraine, already facing increased shelling from Russian-backed separatist rebels and a force of what Western capitals says is more than 150,000 Russian personnel on its borders.

The decision not to withdraw will also be seen as a rebuff to efforts by leaders like Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz to urge their Russian counterpart to pull back from the brink of war.

Boris Johnson warns of war

Russia is preparing to plunge Europe into its worst conflict since World War II, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, warning that any invasion of Ukraine would freeze Moscow out of global finance.

“The fact is that all the signs are that the plan has already in some senses begun,” he said in a BBC interview broadcast Sunday from the Munich Security Conference.

Russian invasion plans would see its troops not just enter Ukraine from the rebel-held east, but from Belarus to the north and encircle the capital Kyiv, Johnson said, citing US intelligence relayed to Western leaders by President Joe Biden.

“People need to understand the sheer cost in human life that could entail,” he said, after previously indicating that the West would continue to support any Ukraine resistance after an invasion.

“I’m afraid to say that the plan we are seeing is for something that could be really the biggest war in Europe since 1945, just in terms of sheer scale.”

Source: RFI

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