French officials say Vladimir Putin has de-escalated the crisis in Ukraine, vowing not to take any new “military initiatives” and agreeing to withdraw thousands of Russian troops from Belarus after the planned exercises.
If the agreement – reached during talks with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday – is confirmed by Putin, it could ease tensions in the region as Russia amasses more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Financial Times that Putin and Macron were “ready to continue the dialogue” on France’s proposals, but that discussions had not yet completely allayed Moscow’s concerns.
“All these topics require the consent of France’s allies in the EU and NATO, especially the United States,” Peskov said. “It’s too early to talk about anything else.”
Neither Putin nor Macron directly mentioned such a deal at a press conference after five hours of talks, although the French president said his Russian counterpart had assured him he was ready to talk about de-escalation.
Instead, Putin was combative and critical of NATO, blaming the West and Ukraine for the crisis, but said Russia would do everything possible to “reach compromises acceptable to all” on European security.
“I think it is very likely that some of his ideas and proposals, even if it is too early to talk about them, will become part of the basis for our next joint steps,” Putin said of Macron’s proposals.
Russia is urging NATO to promise never to allow Ukraine and to withdraw its eastward expansion, essentially rewriting the entire post-Cold War security order in Europe. Western officials said the demands were unacceptable, but tried to find common ground with Moscow on other issues, such as arms control.
Macron, who is due to meet with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in Kiev on Tuesday, acknowledged deep differences between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine and said the countries were looking for “new solutions” to ensure security and stability.
“We are aware of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need, in the interests of all, to find a way to preserve peace and stability in Europe,” Macron said after the talks. “There’s still time.”
According to French officials, there was an agreement not to take new military initiatives and to hold a broad dialogue on the deployment of Russian troops.
Officials said the agreement would include the withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus this month following the completion of a huge joint exercise involving a contingent of about 30,000 people. This will also lead to additional meetings and an agreement on a “structured dialogue on collective security”.
Macron said the goal is to build “concrete security guarantees” for all countries in the region, including Russia, Ukraine and EU members, which will allow for a “new order of security and stability in Europe”.
Leaders began talks sitting alone at opposite ends of a huge oval table that the Kremlin said was a precaution against social distancing before moving on to a hearty dinner that included langoustines, Russian fish soup and a selection of sturgeon or venison.
The wine offered is from a Black Sea vineyard, which opposition activist Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most prominent opponent, claims is part of a lavish palace complex allegedly built for the president’s use. Putin denied owning the palace.