The Kremlin pushed back Tuesday against French claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin promised French leader Emmanuel Macron that he would refrain from staging new military operations as a means to de-escalate the conflict over Ukraine.
A French official speaking after the five-hour meeting between Macron and Putin on Monday said the Russian leader gave assurances that he would not carry out new maneuvers and would remove Russian troops from Belarus once joint military exercises conclude on Feb. 20.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was prepared to continue dialogue but no deal had been reached on defusing the crisis.
“Moscow and France couldn’t have reached any agreements,” Peskov told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s impossible, because France is a member of the EU, and of NATO, where it is not the leader. A different country in that bloc is the leader. So how can we speak about any ‘agreements’?”
Peskov then repeated that the security guarantees Putin has demanded of the West involving a drawdown of NATO troops in Eastern Europe and a pledge not to deploy missile systems in Ukraine have not been met.
Putin also wants Ukraine and other former Soviet nations barred from becoming NATO members — a demand that the US and its allies have said is a non-starter.
“On the fundamental points, unfortunately, we did not receive a response. Therefore, this topic remains open in the full sense of the word and remains the most important for us,” Peskov said.
Macron, who traveled to Kiev after the marathon session with Putin, said he received assurances that Russia would not “escalate” the standoff.
“I obtained that there will be no degradation nor escalation,” Macron said. “My aim was to freeze the game, to prevent an escalation and open up new perspectives … this objective for me is fulfilled.”
The development follows a whirlwind of diplomatic efforts Monday as Macron and Putin met in Moscow while President Biden hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House.
Scholz is scheduled to travel to Kiev on Feb. 14 and Moscow the following day.
The US and its Western allies estimate that Russia has stationed up to 140,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said an invasion “could happen at any time.”
Following the meeting with Macron, Putin warned that if Ukraine joins NATO and tries to take back Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, Europe will be drawn into a war with Russia where there “will be no winners.”
In Washington, Biden said that if Putin invades Ukraine, the US will “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
“If Russia invades — that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine, again — then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” the president said in the White House East Room.
“We will bring an end to it,” he said.
With Post wires