By SYLVIE CORBET and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — International efforts to defuse the standoff over Ukraine intensified on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron holding talks in Moscow and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington to coordinate policies amid fears of a Russian invasion were mounting.
The buildup of around 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western concerns about a possible offensive. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day”, sparking a conflict that would have “enormous human cost”.
Russia has denied any plans to attack its neighbor, but demands that the United States and its allies ban Ukraine and other former Soviet countries from joining NATO, stop weapons deployments there and withdraw NATO forces from Eastern Europe. Washington and NATO reject these demands.
Macron called for de-escalation as he began talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. “Dialogue is necessary because it is the only thing that will help, in my opinion, to build a context of security and stability on the European continent,” Macron said, adding that he was ready to “start building a response effective”.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Putin, in turn, praised France’s role in shaping European security and noted that he appreciated Macron’s efforts to help ensure “equal security in Europe” and broker a settlement of the crisis. Ukrainian. “I realize that we share our concern about what is happening in Europe in the field of security,” said the Russian leader facing Macron around a long table.
Macron, who travels to Ukraine on Tuesday, spoke by telephone with US President Joe Biden on Sunday about “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts”, according to the White House.
Ahead of the meeting, Macron said, “I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles.”
“The security and sovereignty of Ukraine or any other European state cannot be compromised, while it is also legitimate for Russia to raise the question of its own security,” Macron said in a statement. interview with Journal du Dimanche, adding that he believes that “Russia’s geopolitical objective today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU”.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the visit “very important” but sought to temper expectations, saying “the situation is too complex to expect a breakthrough after just one meeting”.
He noted that “the atmosphere remained tense,” adding that the United States and its allies continued to ignore Moscow’s security demands.
Prior to his meeting with Biden, Scholz told German media that the talks would ensure the unification of all allies.
“There will be a very high price if Ukraine is attacked militarily,” said Scholz, who will visit Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15. “And we’ve been preparing for it very specifically and talking about the details for a long time.”
Sullivan, the national security adviser, reiterated on Sunday that Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany “will not move forward” if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Biden and Scholz are expected to address the pipeline in their first face-to-face meeting since Scholz became Germany’s prime minister nearly two months ago.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said during a visit to Kyiv that her country was ready to pay a “heavy economic price” by imposing tough sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine.
Prior to the visit, the White House sought to downplay Germany’s refusal to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, bolster its troops in Eastern Europe, or spell out what sanctions it would support against Russia – a cautious stance that drew criticism abroad and in Germany.
White House officials, who briefed reporters ahead of the meeting on condition of anonymity, noted that Germany has been a major contributor of non-military aid to Ukraine and supported the US decision. to strengthen its military presence in Poland and Romania to demonstrate its commitment to NATO.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Monday she would add up to 350 troops within days to the roughly 500 already in a NATO battlegroup in Lithuania. “With this, we are strengthening our contribution to the forces on NATO’s eastern flank and sending a very clear signal of unity to our allies,” she said.
Biden has already deployed additional US troops to Poland, Romania and Germany, and a few dozen elite US troops and equipment landed in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine on Sunday, with hundreds more infantry from the 82nd Airborne Division expected to arrive.
Britain said it was sending 350 troops to Poland to bolster NATO forces, joining the 100 Royal Engineers already there.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was planning a more permanent military presence in southeastern Europe in response to Russia’s “massive military deployment” near Ukraine.
“We are looking at longer-term adjustments to our posture, our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” Stoltenberg said after talks in Brussels with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “If Russia really wants less NATO near the borders, it gets the opposite.”
Stoltenberg gave no details and said no final decision has been made, but the decision may reflect NATO’s long-term military presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where about 5,000 soldiers are stationed. He would see a similar force based in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
This would mean that NATO troops would be stationed long-term near Ukraine’s western border and in the Black Sea region. The objective would only be to strengthen the defenses of NATO allies in the region and troops would not cross into Ukraine if Russia invaded.
In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal for eastern Ukraine in an effort to end the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists that erupted the year precedent following the annexation by Russia of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula.
The agreement signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk helped end the large-scale fighting, but efforts for a political settlement have stalled and frequent skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact in the heartland industry of Ukraine known as Donbass.
Putin and his officials urged France, Germany and other Western allies to encourage Ukraine to fulfill its obligations under the 2015 deal, which included broad autonomy for the Donbass region and a sweeping amnesty for the separatists. The agreement stipulated that only when these conditions were met, Ukraine would be able to restore control of its border with Russia in the rebel areas.
The Minsk Agreement was seen by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests, and its implementation has stalled. Ukrainian authorities have warned the West against any pressure on Ukraine to implement the agreement.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the country had received more than 1,000 tons of weapons and military supplies from its allies, noting that a series of visits by Western officials had helped deter Russia.
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Jill Lawless in London contributed.
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