Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to compromise and would consider proposals put forward by French leader Emmanuel Macron during Monday’s talks, while still blaming the West for stirring tensions over Ukraine.
After a meeting in the Kremlin that lasted more than five hours, the two leaders hoped to find a solution to the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Moscow has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border, raising fears that it is preparing for a possible invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.
The West has repeatedly warned of “serious consequences” if Russia invades, and Macron was the first major Western leader to meet with Putin since the crisis began in December.
Putine repeatedly thanked the French leader for coming to Moscow, and said at a joint press conference that Macron had presented several ideas worthy of study.
“A number of his ideas and proposals … are possible as a basis for further steps,” Putin said. “We will do everything we can to find compromise solutions that suit everyone.”
He gave no details but said the two leaders would speak by phone after Macron’s meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on Tuesday.
Macron said he has made concrete proposals to address the concerns of both Russia and the West.
“President Putin assured me of his readiness to engage,” Macron said, adding: “There is no security for Europeans if there is no security for Russia.”
The French presidency said the proposals included a pledge by both sides not to take any new military action, start a new strategic dialogue, and efforts to revive the peace process in Kiev’s conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Putin again denied that Russia was responsible for the tensions.
“To say that Russia is behaving aggressively is illogical,” Putin said.
“It is not us who are moving towards the borders of NATO,” he said, referring to the alliance’s expansion in Eastern Europe.
The meeting in Moscow came at the start of a week of intense diplomacy on the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden also hosting German Chancellor Olaf Schulz in Washington on Monday.
Biden threatens gas pipeline Biden has emphatically pledged in the talks to shut down the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe if Moscow sends troops across the Ukrainian border as it did during the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“If Russia invades – and that means tanks or troops cross the border of Ukraine again – there will be no Nord Stream 2,” Biden said at a joint White House news conference with Schultz.
“I promise you, we’ll put an end to that,” Biden said.
US officials say Moscow has amassed 110,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is on track to amass a force large enough – about 150,000 troops – for an all-out invasion by mid-February.
On Monday, Macron cited 125,000 Russian soldiers.
Russia insists it has no plans to attack and has instead made its own demands for security guarantees.
It demands a permanent ban on Ukraine, the former Soviet republic, joining the US-led coalition, and that the bloc withdraw its military presence in Eastern Europe.
Macron, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union, has tried to position himself as a key figure in the European Union in negotiations with Russia.
British and German forces for troop deployment The new German government has come under fire from Ukraine and some of the United States over accusations that it is not fully participating in the US-led effort to respond to Russian military pressure on Ukraine.
Schulz said he and Biden are “completely united” on sanctions against Russia, though he has repeatedly avoided mentioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by name.
Biden responded to the reinforcement of Russian forces by offering 3,000 US troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, with a batch of troops arriving in Poland on Sunday.
Britain said Monday that an additional 350 British soldiers will be sent to the Polish border, and Germany announced that another 350 of its soldiers will go to Lithuania.
While Schulz was in Washington, his Secretary of State, Annallina Barbuk, was in Kiev with her Czech, Slovak, and Austrian counterparts for a two-day visit.
Schultz himself will be in Moscow and Kiev next week for talks with Putin and Zelensky. The British foreign and defense ministers are also expected to visit Moscow this weekend.