Biden agrees ‘in principle’ to Ukraine summit brokered by Macron with Putin

The French president said on Monday that US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed in principle to hold a summit on Ukraine, providing a potential path out of one of Europe’s most serious crises in decades.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement that he had offered the two leaders a summit on “security and strategic stability in Europe.” The White House said in a statement that Biden agreed to meet “in principle” but only “if there is no invasion.”

“We are always ready for diplomacy,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We are also prepared to impose severe and rapid consequences if Russia opts instead for war.”

Letters seeking comment from the Kremlin and from the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky early Monday were not immediately returned.

Many details about the proposed summit — announced after a barrage of phone calls between Macron, Biden, Putin, Zelensky and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — are unclear.

Macron’s office and the White House said the content of the summit will be decided by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting scheduled for February 24. What role, if any, Ukraine would play at the summit was also uncertain.

A Biden administration official said in an email that the summit was “completely virtual” as the timing and format have yet to be decided.

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Oil prices fell, Asian stock markets pared losses and Wall Street futures rose as glimmers of hope for a diplomatic solution emerged.

But Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, said he was skeptical about holding the summit.

“But if Biden and Putin meet, they should invite (Zelensky) to join,” he said in a Twitter message.

News of Macron’s proposal comes after a week of heightened tension sparked by Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders. Russian forces have been massing around its neighbor since late last year, something Western nations say is a prelude to an invasion that could come at any moment.

Russia denies any intention to invade, but nerves grew high when the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced that Russia would extend military exercises in Belarus that were due to end on Sunday.

US-based satellite imagery company Maxar has reported multiple new deployments of Russian military units in forests, farms and industrial areas 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

On Sunday, Blinken said the extension of exercises in Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north, had made him more concerned that Russia was on the brink of an attack.

“Until the tanks really roll, and the planes fly, we’ll take every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from moving forward,” he told CNN.

In a letter to UN human rights coordinator Michelle Bachelet, seen by Reuters on Sunday, the United States expressed concerns that “a further Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to a human rights catastrophe”.

“Specifically, we have reliable information indicating that Russian forces are preparing lists of Ukrainians who have been identified to be killed or sent to camps after military occupation,” wrote the US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Bathsheba Neil Crocker.

It also said that Washington had credible information that Russian forces would likely use lethal measures to disperse protests or to counter “peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from the civilian population.”

Intermittent shelling: Intermittent shelling has intensified across the line between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine since Thursday. The sounds of fighting continued until Monday, when an explosion was heard in the center of the separatist-held city of Donetsk. The reason was not known.

Rebels said on Monday that civilians were killed in shelling by government forces in Kiev, the RIA news agency reported.

US President Joe Biden in Thurmont, Maryland, US, February 12, 2022. © The White House / Handout via Reuters Kiev has accused pro-Russian forces of bombing its citizens in the breakaway region, blaming Ukrainian government forces for the attacks.

Western countries are preparing for sanctions they say will be widespread against Russian companies and individuals in the event of an invasion.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that such measures could include restrictions on Russian companies’ access to dollars and sterling.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told German radio ARD that Russia would “in principle be isolated from international financial markets” and banned from major European exports.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that it was time for the West to implement at least part of the sanctions it had prepared.

The Biden administration refused to do so, saying that its deterrent effect would be lost if it was used too soon.


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