Russian and French leaders agree to work on ceasefire in eastern Ukraine – News

Putin told Macron he intended to withdraw his troops from Belarus after the ongoing military exercises



By AFP

Published: Sun 20 Feb 2022, 21:00

French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin agreed on Sunday to work for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, Macron’s office said.

During a telephone conversation lasting 105 minutes, they also agreed on “the need to favor a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and to do everything to achieve it”, indicated the Elysée, adding that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his counterpart Sergei Lavrov would meet “in the coming days”.

Putin told his French counterpart that he intended to withdraw Russian troops from Belarus as soon as ongoing military exercises there were completed, Macron’s office said.

Following the call between the two leaders, the French presidency said that this claim “will have to be verified”, adding that it seemed to contradict a declaration by the Belarusian government that the Russian army would “continue inspections” beyond the end of the exercises previously announced on Sunday. , leaving Moscow with a large force near the northern border of Ukraine.

Putin and Macron said they would work “intensively” to allow the trilateral contact group, which includes Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, to meet “in the coming hours with the aim of bringing all parties interested in committing to a ceasefire at the point of contact”. line” in eastern Ukraine where government troops and pro-Russian separatists face each other.

“Intense diplomatic work will take place in the coming days,” Macron’s office said, with several consultations due to take place in the French capital.

Macron and Putin also agreed that talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany should resume to implement the so-called Minsk Protocol which in 2014 had already called for a ceasefire. fire in eastern Ukraine.

Both also agreed to work towards “a high-level meeting with the aim of defining a new order of peace and security in Europe”, Macron’s office said.

US President Joe Biden is also ready to meet Russian Vladimir Putin “at any time” to prevent a war in Ukraine, according to his chief diplomat who said on Sunday that Russia appeared to be on the verge of invading its neighbor.

On a series of US talk shows, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN “everything we’re seeing suggests this is very serious, that we’re on the verge of an invasion.”

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

“But until the tanks actually roll and the planes fly, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from pursuing this,” Blinken said.

He told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Biden had “made it very clear that he is ready to meet with President Putin at any time, in any format, if it helps prevent a war.”

The two leaders last spoke by phone on Feb. 12, according to the White House.

In Ukraine, further shelling was heard by AFP reporters overnight near the frontline between government forces and Moscow-backed rebels who hold parts of Lugansk and Donetsk districts.

And in Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, Russian military exercises were continuing, Minsk announced on Sunday, further increasing pressure on an already tense situation.

Blinken said it was just one of many signs that Moscow is preparing for an invasion, with Putin “following the script almost to the letter”.

“It tells us that the playbook that we presented, which I presented to the UN Security Council last week, about Russia’s attempt to create a series of provocations to justify aggression against the ‘Ukraine, move on,’ Blinken said.

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Biden was hosting a rare weekend meeting of his National Security Council on Sunday to address the Ukraine crisis.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking to reporters on Sunday after addressing the Munich Security Conference, said Western allies were ready to hammer Russia with massive sanctions if they were invading the Ukraine.

“We still sincerely hope there is a diplomatic way out of this moment,” Harris said, though she acknowledged that such a window is “absolutely shrinking.”

Christi C. Elwood