Biden, Putin agree in principle to France’s summit proposal
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have accepted in principle a French proposal for a diplomatic summit, France said, potentially offering fresh hope for a peaceful solution to pull Russia and Ukraine back from the brink of war.
The meeting, proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, would occur only if Russia does not invade Ukraine, U.S. officials said Sunday. The discussion would focus on security and strategic stability in Europe, followed by a second summit with relevant stakeholders, the French presidential office said in a statement.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Kremlin. Moscow continues to deny it plans to invade Ukraine and says it is already pulling troops back from areas near the border, though the U.S. has disputed that. The Kremlin has said previously that Putin would be willing to speak or meet to discuss his security demands.
News of the proposed meeting came as top U.S. and European officials warned of intelligence they said showed that Putin had made the decision to pursue an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
U.S. equity futures rose and Russia’s ruble strengthened Monday as traders evaluated the possibility of a summit that could ease tensions. Oil prices reversed earlier gains. But demand for the relative safety of havens like bullion and sovereign bonds eased only a little, signalling ongoing investor fears of a deterioration in the security situation.
It was unclear what new proposals the U.S. and Russian leaders might discuss at a potential meeting. Washington has rejected Moscow’s demands for sweeping security guarantees - including a promise that Ukraine will never join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a major rollback of the alliance’s presence in eastern Europe. The Kremlin has said it will not back down on those. Still, Russian officials have said they are willing to negotiate on other issues where the U.S. did offer talks, including limits on missile deployments and military manoeuvres in Europe.
U.S. officials urged caution even as they opened the door for the leader-level meeting. The format and timing of the discussion between Biden and Putin has not been determined, and the U.S. would withdraw from talks if Russia makes further moves toward invading Ukraine, according to one U.S. official who asked not to be identified.
“We are always ready for diplomacy,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”
Details of the meeting between Biden and Putin are to be prepared during a meeting by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, according to the French statement. The U.S. and Russia have not yet confirmed the timing of the ministerial meeting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment early Monday. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman at the Foreign Ministry, said Lavrov is expected to speak by phone later Monday with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian. Both Peskov and Zakharova repeated over the weekend that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine.
An hourlong call between Biden and Putin earlier this month failed to make headway in easing tensions, leaving both sides at an impasse. Biden warned of “severe costs” while Putin accused the U.S. of failing to provide him with security assurances he needs to back down.
Since then, the U.S. has ratcheted up its rhetoric, asking Americans to leave Ukraine while making clear it will not send in troops. Late last week, Biden said he was convinced that Putin had decided to invade, and Russia over the weekend conducted ballistic missile tests in a show of force. He also accused Moscow of staging false flag operations and undertaking a cyberattack on Ukrainian banks, while continuing to build up forces at the border.
The U.S. has also told allies that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would potentially see it target multiple cities beyond Kyiv, according to three people familiar with the matter. Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman dismissed that, saying it is “impossible to talk seriously about such issues.”
Still, the potential for another Biden-Putin summit raises fresh optimism. On Friday, Biden said “diplomacy was always a possibility” despite intelligence showing Putin had determined to invade.
“Russia can still choose diplomacy,” Biden said. “It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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