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MUNICH — The Kremlin on Sunday used a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron to air a series of provocative and unproven allegations of belligerence on the part of Ukraine and NATO countries, insisting that the West was “pushing Kiev towards a military solution to the so-called Donbass problem.
that of Moscow unsubstantiated claims, made as Russia mobilized more than 100,000 troops and sophisticated weaponry on the Ukrainian border, greatly increased the danger that Putin could use fabricated accusations to justify a military attack.
US President Joe Biden has said publicly that he believes Putin has decided to undertake a full-scale invasion – a point echoed on Sunday by senior US administration officials who warned that Russia is on the ‘edge’ of an attack. an invasion.
The Kremlin, in its summary of Sunday’s appeal, said Putin had referred to an evacuation of civilians currently underway in occupied areas of Donbass – which even some residents have called unwarranted. The separatist leaders, urging civilians to flee, had claimed that an attack by the Ukrainian army was imminent.
In fact, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly stated that his troops were under orders to exercise maximum restraint and not create a pretext for a Russian invasion.
“Serious concerns have been expressed over the sharp deterioration of the situation on the line of contact in the Donbass,” the Kremlin said in its summary of the appeal. “The President of Russia noted that the reason for the escalation was the provocations of the Ukrainian security forces. Attention is drawn to the continued pumping by NATO countries from Ukraine of modern weapons and ammunition, which is pushing Kiev towards a military solution to the so-called Donbass problem.
“As a result,” the Kremlin statement added, “civilians in the [separatist areas]who have to evacuate to Russia to escape the intensification of the bombardments, are suffering.
The Kremlin’s reading differed sharply in tone and substance from an initial assessment released by the French government. And in a follow-up briefing for reporters, an Elysee official conceded the two presidents disagreed on the state of play.
Putin and Macron “recognized their differences in interpretation”, the official said. “Mr. Putin blames Ukraine for the deadlock in negotiations with the separatists, while [French] The president insists on respecting the Minsk agreements as they were signed at the time by Russia.
Given the controversial nature of the situation and Russia’s reputation for using disinformation as part of its toolkit, it was unclear why the Élysée had not insisted on joint written statements from the two presidents. following their calls and meetings to avoid misunderstandings or even blatant contradictions. .
There were similar contradictions following a meeting between Macron and Putin in the Kremlin earlier this month, with Paris initially claiming that some deals had been reached, and the Kremlin denying that was the case.
On Sunday, the Elysee Palace said Putin and Macron had agreed that there should be a quickly organized meeting of the so-called trilateral contact group on Monday – made up of representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for security and cooperation in Europe.
The French president’s office said the trilateral group “will work to restore the ceasefire” along the line of contact between the Russian-backed separatists in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Ukrainian armed forces. There has been a sharp increase in shelling on the line of contact in recent days.
Macron and Putin also discussed Russia’s commitment to withdrawing its troops from Belarus after military exercises that ended on Sunday. Belarus has announced that Russian military forces will not return home immediately after the conclusions of the exercises. Macron, after his recent visit to Moscow, said that Putin had assured him that the troops would leave after the drills.
The Elysée Palace claimed that during Sunday’s call with Macron, Putin made that promise again – even though it was already contradicted by the Belarusian authorities’ statement and Russia made no mention of such a promise. OK.
“Putin reiterated to President Macron his intention to withdraw these troops from Belarus at the end of the current exercises.” said the Elysée official. “So we will have to check all that. It will take time, but I note that the declarations of the Belarusian authorities do not coincide with the words of President Putin.
According to the French summary, Putin agreed to “the resumption of work within the framework of the Normandy format on the basis of exchanges and proposals made by Ukraine in recent days; intensive work to enable the holding in the next few hours of a meeting of the trilateral contact group with the aim of obtaining from all the stakeholders a commitment to a ceasefire on the line of contact; the need to favor a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and to do everything to achieve it.
In the coming days, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in order to advance the agreed points, the Elysee said. “We believe that the resources of diplomacy are not exhausted,” said the Elysée.
The Kremlin, however, has not confirmed any specific commitments. Instead, he pushed the line that only Kiev was responsible for the failed settlement of the nearly eight-year-old war in Donbass, in which Russia funded and armed separatist forces and effectively took control. makeshift government administrations of the occupied territories. .
Allied leaders have been in constant communication about the Russian threat, and Macron was due to speak with his counterparts later on Sunday, the Elysee Palace said.
The Macron-Putin phone call came on the closing day of the annual Munich security conference, which was dominated by speculation of a Russian invasion and pervasive fears of the continent’s first full-scale war. European in the 21st century.
“We think Putin has made up his mind. Full stop,” US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters just before leaving Munich for Washington.
His comments echoed remarks by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said Russia was planning the biggest war in Europe since 1945.
“People need to understand the cost in human life this could entail,” he told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
European Council President Charles Michel said on Sunday that “if there is further military aggression, we will respond with massive sanctions. The cost to Russia must be, and will be, severe. But he added: “Let’s be frank, it will also be a cost for us in Europe.
Asked about the defense capabilities of the European Union and its commitment to Ukraine, senior European diplomat Josep Borrell insisted that the bloc was Ukraine’s strongest partner and had already provided 17 billion euros of aid in exchange for reforms. The relationship is “really complete”, said Borrell. “There is no country where we spend more money and where we have stronger ties in all areas.”
EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Monday, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba due to brief ministers.