Ukraine crisis: Macron says crucial days ahead after Putin summit

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Vladimir Putin, left, and Emmanuel Macron, right, meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, RussiaImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Putin hinted that progress had been made during his first Moscow summit with a Western leader since the crisis started

French President Emmanuel Macron has said the coming days will be crucial to de-escalating the Ukraine standoff, after five hours of talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin hinted progress had been made during his first Moscow summit with a Western leader since Russian troops massed close to Ukraine's borders.

Moscow has denied any plans to invade.

However, Western powers have become increasingly concerned by the possibility of a conflict.

President Macron, who travelled to Ukraine on Tuesday morning, earlier told reporters in Moscow the coming days would be "decisive" and "require intensive discussions which we will pursue together".

Mr Putin said some of Mr Macron's proposals "could form the basis of further joint steps", stating that they were "probably still too early to talk about".

A source at the Elysée Palace said Russia had made a commitment not take any new military initiatives to enable a potential de-escalation. Further talks could then take place on key points including Russia's military units and strategic issues.

However, the Kremlin said on Tuesday that such assertions were "not right".

Frantic diplomacy

The two leaders were due to speak again after the French president met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr Putin said Russia would then "determine our own further steps".

A frantic day of diplomacy is due to conclude later in Berlin, when President Macron sees the German chancellor and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

President Joe Biden met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington on Monday and threatened to shut down a key Russian gas pipeline to Germany if Moscow invaded Ukraine.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also indicated his support for sanctions. Writing in The Times newspaper on Tuesday, he added that the UK was considering deploying Royal Air Force fighters and Royal Navy warships "to protect south-eastern Europe".

Western countries have already rejected a number of Moscow's demands, including that the Nato defence alliance rule out Ukraine becoming a member, and that it reduce its military presence in eastern Europe.

They have instead suggested other areas of negotiation, for example talks on cutting back nuclear weaponry.

During a tense news conference with the French leader in Moscow on Monday night, Mr Putin repeated earlier warnings that should Ukraine join the Western military alliance Nato and attempt to take back Crimea - which Russia annexed eight years ago - Europe could get sucked into a major conflict.

"Do you want France to fight with Russia?" he asked French reporters. "That's what will happen. And there will be no winners."

Media caption,
'It's like they stuck a knife in our back': Ukraine has been living with war for the past eight years

In Washington, Chancellor Scholz told reporters it was important for "Russia to understand that a lot more could happen than they've perhaps calculated with themselves", according to news agency AP.

Mr Scholz - on his first trip to Washington since becoming chancellor and facing criticism for his response to the Ukraine crisis - added that the US and Germany were "absolutely united" on sanctions against Russia should it invade Ukraine, saying "we will do the same steps and they will be very, very hard to Russia".

However, he was more ambiguous about Nord Stream 2 than US President Biden, who said the US "will bring an end" to the controversial pipeline - which will double Moscow's gas exports to Germany - "if Russia invades".

Mr Biden did not give specifics, responding to a question about how he would do this by saying: "I promise you we will be able to do it."

The 1,225km (760-mile) Nord Stream 2 pipeline took five years to build and cost $11bn (£8bn), but as yet has not started operating, after regulators said in November it does not comply with German law and suspended its approval.