Putin and Macron open door to face-to-face Ukraine talks

Russian and French leaders hold second call in four days in bid to lower tensions

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin. AFP
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The presidents of France and Russia have raised the prospect of face-to-face talks over Ukraine as Paris tries to broker peace in Eastern Europe.

The Kremlin said Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron would “promptly consider the possibility of meeting in person” after a phone call on Monday, their second in four days.

Mr Putin used the call to push Russia’s demands that Nato troops should not accumulate further near its borders — a condition largely rejected by the West, which blames Moscow for raising tensions by massing forces near Ukraine.

But France believes that “preventing an armed conflict at our gates” is “still possible”, said government spokesman Gabriel Attal after the call.

Asked whether Mr Macron was planning a trip to Moscow, Mr Attal told French television this was not yet decided but said: “I don’t rule it out.”

“The president will do whatever is needed to contribute to de-escalation,” he said

Mr Putin has not met a major western leader since tensions started to escalate over Ukraine, although he has spoken by phone to Mr Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and others.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been expected to call Mr Putin before travelling to Ukraine on Tuesday, but was sidetracked by the release of a scathing report into behaviour at his office during lockdown.

Mr Johnson, did not deny reports that the call had been postponed, telling MPs during a stormy debate on the report that he would speak to Mr Putin “as soon as I can”.

Ukrainian civilians build a shelter in the deep snow as part of a crash course in survival techniques near Kiev. AFP

Mr Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in April, has stressed the need for dialogue with Russia to prevent war breaking out in Eastern Europe.

Talks between Russia, the US and Nato last month ended without a clear breakthrough, with Moscow showing impatience at the lack of progress.

Although Nato said it was willing to discuss some issues such as arms control, it flatly rejected Russia’s demand for a veto on future expansion of the alliance.

But Mr Macron’s office said some progress had been made in four-way talks between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, a group known as the Normandy format.

Those talks are aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian separatists.

France and Germany will send their foreign ministers to Ukraine next week, with European powers keen to prevent the US and Russia from dominating talks.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 9:24 AM