The US and French leaders said that US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to meet over Ukraine, giving a possible way out of the conflict.
In a statement released on Monday, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he had proposed a meeting between the two leaders to discuss “security and strategic stability in Europe.” Biden approved the meeting “in principle,” according to the White House, but only “if an invasion has not occurred.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, stated, “We are always ready for diplomacy.” “Should Russia chose war instead, we are likewise prepared to impose swift and severe repercussions.”
Early Monday, messages requesting comment from the Kremlin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office were not immediately replied.
Many details regarding the prospective conference remain unclear, despite a flurry of phone contacts involving Macron, Biden, Putin, Zelenskiy, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The content of the summit will be hashed out by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their upcoming meeting on February 24, according to Macron’s office and the White House. It was also unclear what, if any, role Ukraine will play in the conference.
The summit is “totally hypothetical,” according to a Biden administration official, because the schedule and format have yet to be finalized.
Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul expressed doubts about the summit’s success.
“However, if Biden and Putin do meet, they should invite (Zelenskiy) to attend,” he wrote on Twitter.
The announcement of Macron’s proposal follows a week of rising tensions sparked by Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine’s borders. Since late last year, Russian soldiers have been massing around its neighbor, which Western countries believe is a prelude to an invasion that might occur at any time.
In the midst of the tension, travel plans have been disrupted.
Following a two-hour meeting of his National Security Council, President Joe Biden canceled a trip to Delaware and will remain in Washington, according to the White House. Melanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, announced on Sunday that she would postpone a trip to France due to the situation and will return to Canada immediately.
Moscow denies any intention of invading, but the Belarusian defense ministry announced on Sunday that Russia would extend military drills in Belarus that were set to end on Sunday, further fraying emotions. Belarus is located to the north of Ukraine, and its estimated 30,000 troops might play a significant part in any future attack.
Maxar, a US-based satellite photography business, revealed many fresh Russian military deployments in forests, farms, and industrial areas as close as 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Ukraine’s border.
The prolongation of the exercises in Belarus, according to Blinken, has increased his fears that Russia is about to launch an attack.
“Everything we’ve seen shows this is a very dangerous situation,” he told CNN.
“We will utilize every opportunity and minute we have until the tanks are rolling and the jets are flying to see if diplomacy can still discourage President Putin from pushing this ahead.”
In eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists clawed away portions of territory in 2014, the war drums have been beating louder in recent days.
Since Thursday, sporadic shelling across the line separating Ukrainian government soldiers and insurgents has increased. The sounds of battle continued into Monday, when a blast was reported in the center of the separatist-held city of Donetsk. The reason behind it was unknown.
The rebels say two people were killed in shelling by Kyiv government forces on Monday, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.
To blame the strikes on Ukrainian government forces, Kyiv has accused pro-Russian forces of shelling their own compatriots in eastern Ukraine.
The fighting, as well as Russia’s ongoing military rehearsals, has put Europe on edge.
In a TV interview, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala remarked, “It is not an exaggeration to say that Europe is a step away from war, which was something unfathomable not long ago.”
In the event of an invasion, Western countries are preparing broad sanctions against Russian corporations and individuals, according to reports.
Russian enterprises’ access to the dollar and the pound, for example, could be restricted, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. According to German network ARD, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Russia “would in principle be cut off from international financial markets” and “would be cut off from important European exports.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said it was past time for the West to put at least some of the penalties in place.
The Biden administration has so far refused to do so, claiming that if they were utilized too quickly, their deterrent effect would be gone.