KYIV, Ukraine — French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that Moscow would not further escalate the Ukraine crisis.
Macron also said it would take time to find a diplomatic solution to the rising tensions, which represent the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
His remarks on a visit to Kyiv came as the Kremlin denied reports that he and Putin struck a deal on de-escalating the crisis. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals.”
Macron met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid mounting fears of a Russian invasion. Moscow has massed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders but insists it has no plans to attack.
NATO Rejects Kremlin Demands
The Kremlin wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members, that it halt weapon deployments there and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands the U.S. and NATO reject as nonstarters.
At a news conference after meeting Zelenskyy, Macron said Putin told him during their more than five-hour session Monday that “he won’t be initiating an escalation. I think it is important.”
According to the French president, Putin also said there won’t be any Russian “permanent (military) base” or “deployment” in Belarus, where Russia had sent a large number of troops for war games.
Peskov said withdrawing Russian troops from Belarus after the maneuvers was the plan all along.
Zelenskyy said he would welcome concrete steps from Putin for de-escalation, adding he didn’t “trust words in general.”
Macron: ‘Let’s not be Naive’
Macron also sought to temper expectations.
“Let’s not be naive,” he said. “Since the beginning of the crisis, France hasn’t been inclined to exaggerate, but at the same time, I don’t believe this crisis can be settled in a few hours, through discussions”
Zelenskyy called his talks with Macron “very fruitful.”
“We have a common view with President Macron on threats and challenges to the security of Ukraine, of the whole of Europe, of the world in general,” Zelenskyy said.
He said France was giving 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in financial aid to Ukraine and helping restore infrastructure in the war-ravaged east of the country.
Western leaders in recent weeks have engaged in high-level talks, and more are planned amid the backdrop of military drills in Russia and Belarus. On Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said six large warships were moving from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea for exercises.
Macron said he had not expected Putin to make any “gestures” Monday, saying his objective was to “prevent an escalation and open new perspectives. … That objective is met.”
Macron said Putin “set a collective trap” by initiating the exchange of documents with the U.S. Moscow submitted its demands to Washington in the form of draft agreements that were made public, and insisted on a written response, which was then leaked.
“In the history of diplomacy, there was never a crisis that has been settled by exchanges of letters which are to be made public afterward,” he said, adding that’s why he decided to go to Moscow for direct talks.
Putin said after the meeting that the U.S. and NATO ignored Moscow’s demands, but signaled readiness to continue talking. He also reiterated a warning that NATO membership for Ukraine could trigger a war between Russia and the alliance should Kyiv try to retake the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.