French President Emmanuel Macron was meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, trying to curb the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the Kremlin said in advance it does not expect any immediate resolution of its stalemate with the West.
At the start of their meeting, Macron told Putin, “This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is towards a de-escalation” to “avoid a war” and “build elements of confidence, stability and visibility for everyone.”
The Kremlin had said ahead of the talks that it did not expect any immediate resolution of its stalemate with the West.
“The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in the course of one meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“In recent days there has been nothing new on the topic of security guarantees for Russia,” Peskov said. “Our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic.”
Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia and in its ally, Belarus, with the West fearing that Putin could at any time order an invasion of Moscow’s one-time Soviet republic.
France, the United States and their NATO allies have rejected Moscow’s demand that they rule out possible Ukraine membership in the Western military alliance formed after World War II.
Macron, before leaving Paris, told Le Journal du Dimanche, “We have to be very realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to prevent a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and reciprocal gestures of trust.” After meeting with Putin, Macron heads to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian leaders on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden is meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House in their first face-to-face talks since Scholz assumed power in Berlin in December.
Their talks will also center on easing tensions in eastern Europe and preventing a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden has ruled out dispatching the U.S. military to fight in Ukraine but now has deployed 3,000 U.S. troops to Romania and Poland on NATO’s eastern edge and sent $500 million in military assistance to the Kyiv government.
Frustrating some NATO allies, Germany declined to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, citing its policy of not sending arms into conflict zones. The Biden-Scholz discussions are also likely to touch on Germany’s reliance on energy supplies from Russia.
The U.S. has declared that if Moscow invades Ukraine, it will not allow natural gas to start flowing through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
The U.S., among others, has viewed the pipeline as part of the deterrence of a Russian attack on Ukraine, eliminating potential Russian revenue from the pipeline.
Scholz told German broadcaster ARD ahead of his trip to Washington, “We have considered all measures (about the pipeline) and there is nothing that is ruled out.”
The talks Monday in Moscow and Washington come as the U.S. warns a Russian invasion “could happen at any time,” according to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
“We believe that the Russians have put in place the capabilities to mount a significant military operation into Ukraine, and we have been working hard to prepare a response,” Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” show Sunday.
In a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Sullivan said, “Any day Russia could take action against Ukraine, or it could be a couple weeks,” with U.S. intelligence officials assessing that Moscow has 70% of its strike force in place for an attack.
He said a Russian invasion would come “at an enormous human cost to Ukraine but at a strategic cost to Russia,” with the U.S. prepared to impose swift and severe economic sanctions against Russia to hobble its economy.
“Whatever actions Russia takes next, America is ready,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, however, said the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Putin over his professed security concerns about the actions of the U.S. and its 29 NATO allies.
“That includes the placement of certain range systems of missiles,” Sullivan said. “It includes transparency around military exercises. It includes greater capacity to have a confidence building and to avoid incidents that could lead to escalation or miscalculation.”
“But what we’re not prepared to negotiate are the fundamental principles of security that include an open door to NATO for countries who can meet the requirements,” Sullivan said in rejecting Putin’s demand that NATO rule out the possibility of Ukrainian membership.
The Western allies say no outside nation has veto power over which countries join the Atlantic alliance.
In the NBC interview, Sullivan said Biden “has rallied our allies. He’s reinforced and reassured our partners on the eastern flank. He’s provided material support to the Ukrainians, and he’s offered the Russians a diplomatic path if that’s what they choose instead, but either way, we are ready, our allies are ready and we’re trying to help the Ukrainian people get ready as well.”