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Putin and Macron agree on need for ‘de-escalation’ in Ukraine, France says

French officials take a more conciliatory tone during crisis than US and UK counterparts, claim Russian leader expressed ‘no offensive plans’ in call with French president

An Ukrainian serviceman and an armored personnel carrier near a front line position in the Luhansk area, eastern Ukraine, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
An Ukrainian serviceman and an armored personnel carrier near a front line position in the Luhansk area, eastern Ukraine, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for a “de-escalation” in the Ukraine crisis during a call on Friday, with the Russian leader saying he had “no offensive plans,” an aide to Macron said.

The two leaders spoke for more than an hour on Friday morning during a call that was described by the French side as “serious and respectful” which highlighted “fundamental differences” but also a “joint desire” to keep talking.

The conversation “enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation,” the aide said during a briefing with journalists.

France hosted more than eight hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Paris on Wednesday which were seen as a test of whether Putin wanted to lower tensions, having massed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.

“President Putin expressed no offensive plans and said he wanted to continue the talks with France and our allies,” the French official said on Friday, adding that the Russian leader “said very clearly that he did not want confrontation.”

Macron said earlier this week that Russia was behaving as a “power of disequilibrium” in the region but had also made clear he wanted to speak with Putin, whom he invited to France for talks during his summer holidays in 2019.

File: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin arrive at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, as they meet for talks on May 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Francois Mori)

His relatively conciliatory tone has contrasted with the more strident rhetoric about the probability of a Russian invasion from France’s NATO allies the UK and United States.

“Now the ball is in Putin’s court,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio Friday before the phone call between the leaders.

“Does he want to be the one to say that Russia is a power of disequilibrium, or is he ready to show de-escalation?” he asked.

“It’s up to Vladimir Putin to say if he wants confrontation or consultation. We are ready for consultation. But it still takes two to do it,” he said.

Le Drian said that there was “of course” still the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, warning that such a move would have “massive repercussions” for Moscow.

Later Friday, Macron also spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

The president reaffirmed “France’s full solidarity with Ukraine” and stressed the nation’s “determination to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of this country, in a context of high volatility,” the Elysee said.

“The two presidents agreed to continue efforts in favor of de-escalation and dialogue,” it added.

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