No concrete plan for Biden-Putin summit: Kremlin

Emmanuel Macron proposes Biden-Putin summit; White House says summit possible only if Russia does not invade

February 21, 2022 09:30 pm | Updated 09:30 pm IST - Moscow:

United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. File

United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. File | Photo Credit: AP

The Kremlin on Monday said there were no concrete plans for a summit over Ukraine between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, after the French President said the two leaders had agreed on a meeting in principle.

A summit might offer a path out of Europe’s biggest military crisis in decades, and European financial markets edged higher on the glimmer of hope for a diplomatic solution.

Both Washington and Moscow played down hopes of a breakthrough, and satellite imagery appeared to show Russian deployments closer to Ukraine’s border than before.

Nerves frayed further when Moscow’s close ally Belarus announced on Sunday that Russia would extend military exercises there.

After talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, British foreign minister Liz Truss said Western countries were preparing for a “worst-case scenario”. The airlines Lufthansa, KLM and Air France all cancelled flights to Kiev.

But the European Union rebuffed a call from Kiev to impose some sanctions now to try to avert war before it started.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said a call or meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden could be set up at any time, but there were no concrete plans yet for a summit. Tensions were growing, he said, but a Foreign Ministers’ meeting was possible this week.

Mr. Macron’s office and the White House said the substance of the plan would be worked out by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting planned for Thursday.

An adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron told Reuters that Mr. Macron had put the summit proposal to Mr. Putin at Mr. Biden’s request. “We’re slowly changing the course of things,” said the adviser, who declined to be named.

The White House said Mr. Biden had accepted the meeting ‘in principle” but only “if an invasion hasn’t happened”.

“We are always ready for diplomacy,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences, should Russia instead choose war.”

Ukraine said it must be included in any decisions aimed at resolving the crisis, and that it had seen warnings online that hackers were preparing to launch cyberattacks on government agencies, banks and the military.

“No one can resolve our issue without us,” top security official Oleksiy Danilov told a briefing.

Sporadic shelling across the line dividing government forces from the pro-Russian insurgents has intensified since Thursday, with both sides trading blame.

The separatists have been bussing out civilians, accusing Kiev of planning an attack. Ukraine and the West view the rebels as Russian proxies, escalating to provide Moscow with a justification to invade.

Russia’s FSB intelligence service said a shell fired from Ukrainian territory had hit a Russian border guard post in the city of Rostov, but that no one had been hurt.

The rebels said two civilians were killed in shelling by Ukrainian government forces, Russia’s RIA news agency said. Russian media reported 61,000 evacuees from east Ukraine had crossed into Russia.

Kiev denies firing on civilians or across the border. Washington says accusations that Kiev would intentionally escalate the conflict are absurd at a time when Russia has massed troops on the border.

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