Macron tells Putin he wants to ‘avoid war’ at crunch talks on Ukraine crisis

Emmanuel Macron will also hold talks in Ukraine on Tuesday

Watch live as Macron meets Putin in Moscow amid Ukraine tension

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French president Emmanuel Macron has told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the start of talks in the Kremlin that he aimed to avoid war and build trust as tensions rise over Ukraine.

Mr Macron told the Russian president he was seeking a “useful” response “that of course allows us to avoid war and to build bricks of trust, stability, visibility”.

Mr Putin said Russia and France shared “a common concern about what is happening in the security sphere in Europe”.

As the talks started, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace announced that 350 more troops will be deployed to Poland in the “spirit of solidarity” as fears grow over an imminent Russian invasion.

Before the meeting between the two leaders in Moscow, Mr Macron told reporters that he felt “reasonably optimistic”.

“I don’t think there are short-term victories,” he said. “We can prevent some things in the short term. I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles. There are lots of tensions, nervousness. That’s also why I decided to start the discussion a few weeks ago.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, described Macron’s visit as “very important,” but sought to temper expectations, saying “the situation is too complex to expect a decisive breakthrough after just one meeting”.

Russia has amassed an estimated more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, fuelling Western fears that an invasion could be imminent. The White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day,” triggering a conflict that would come at an “enormous human cost.”

US officials have also claimed Moscow has assembled 70 per cent of the military firepower needed for a full invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has denied any plans to attack, but is urging the US and its allies to bar Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations from joining Nato, halt weapons deployments there and roll back Nato forces from Eastern Europe.

Washington and Nato have so far rejected the demands.

Mr Macron, who is also visiting Ukraine on Tuesday, said he thinks a deal to avoid a full scale war is possible and that it is legitimate for Russia to raise its own security concerns.

He called for a “new balance” to protect European states and appease Russia.

Mr Macron told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that Russia's objective was “not Ukraine, but a clarification of the rules... with Nato and the EU”.

“We must protect our European brothers by proposing a new balance capable of preserving their sovereignty and peace,” he said.

“This must be done while respecting Russia and understanding the contemporary traumas of this great people and great nation.”

Meanwhile, Mr Putin and his officials have urged France, Germany and other Western allies to encourage Ukraine to fulfill its obligations under the 2015 agreement, which envisaged a broad autonomy for the rebel east and a sweeping amnesty for the separatists. The agreement stipulated that only after those conditions are met would Ukraine be able to restore control of its border with Russia in rebel regions.

US Soldiers Land In Poland Amid Fears Of Russian Invasion Of Ukraine

Mr Macron also had talks with US President Joe Biden on Sunday. They discussed “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up on Ukraine’s borders, and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement.

Mr Biden has reacted to the Russian troop buildup by offering 3,000 American forces to bolster Nato’s eastern flank, with a batch of the troops promised arriving in Poland on Sunday amid tensions.

“We are in the window. Any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine, or it could be a couple of weeks from now,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Fox News on Sunday.

US officials told Reuters on Sunday that Russia had assembled about 70 per cent of the necessary military capability needed for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops staged urban combat exercises in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone amid the rising tension of a Russian invasion.

Soldiers dressed in white camouflage gear held drills on the empty streets of Pripyat on Friday as they practiced live-fire training in the area empty since residents were evacuated following the nuclear reactor disaster in 1986.

Mr Macron's appearance in the international spotlight also comes ahead of France's presidential election in April. The French president has called for a renewed relationship with Russia before, and in January he said the EU should open its own dialogue with Moscow, rather than rely on Washington.

Continuing the high-level diplomacy, German chancellor Olaf Scholz is also set to meet with Biden Monday for talks expected to focus on the Ukrainian standoff. Scholz is set to travel to Kiev and Moscow on 14 and 15 February.

Presidential advisers from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France held talks in Paris on 26 January but they didn't make any visible progress and agreed to meet again in Berlin in two weeks.

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