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US and France discuss Ukraine ahead of Macron’s meeting with Putin

US President Joe Biden sought to co-ordinate “diplomatic and deterrence efforts” in the Ukraine crisis with Emmanuel Macron ahead of the French president’s visit to Moscow on Monday to meet Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin.

The White House on Sunday afternoon said Biden had spoken with Macron — the latest in series of talks between the US president and allies to defuse the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The leaders discussed ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up on Ukraine’s borders, and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said of the call.

“They agreed their teams will remain in touch and continue consulting with our allies and partners, including Ukraine,” it added.

The flurry of diplomatic activity will continue on Monday as Biden is due to host Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, at the White House, to further co-ordinate the western response.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the US was preparing for all scenarios, adding that a deeper Russian invasion could happen at any moment, including a “contingency where Russian forces drive on the Ukrainian capital”.

“[An attack] could take a number of different forms. It could happen as soon as tomorrow or it could take some weeks yet. [Putin] has put himself in a position with military deployments to be able to act aggressively against Ukraine at any time now,” Sullivan told ABC News.

But he stressed that a diplomatic solution remained on the table.

“We are ready if President Putin chooses to continue to engage in diplomacy and we are serious about that and we are ready to respond in a united, swift and severe way with our allies and partners should he choose to move forward with a military escalation,” he said.

Macron’s visit to Moscow could be pivotal. France’s president, who has spoken to Putin by phone three times in the past 10 days, has signalled he would recognise Russian security concerns without abandoning support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Macron on Sunday outlined what he called a “realistic” approach to the threat of war as more than 100,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s borders.

“Russia’s geopolitical aim today is obviously not Ukraine but the clarification of the rules of how Moscow lives with Nato and the EU,” Macron said in an interview on Sunday with Le Journal du Dimanche.

He added: “The security and sovereignty of Ukraine and of any other European nation cannot be compromised in any way, just as it is legitimate for Russia to raise the issue of its own security concerns.”

Macron, who is also due to meet Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kyiv on Tuesday, said his aim was to prevent a Russian military operation that other western leaders have warned is “imminent”.

“The intensity of the dialogue we have had with Russia and this visit to Moscow are designed to stop that happening,” he said. “Then we will discuss the terms of de-escalation. We have to be very realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it’s essential to stop the situation deteriorating.”

Russia has denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last week said Monday’s talks with Macron would focus on security guarantees that Moscow was seeking from the US, Nato and other western allies.

French officials said Macron was communicating with Biden and other Nato allies and EU partners to ensure a united front over Ukraine, even though he was simultaneously pursuing his goal of a “new European security order” that would give the EU more responsibility for its own security.

Ahead of Macron’s talks with Putin, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, spoke on Sunday with Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, about “joint efforts to strengthen Nato’s eastern flank and to ensure Russia understands the high costs it would incur if it were to invade Ukraine further”, according to the state department.

One senior official in Paris, asked whether Macron was too accommodating towards Putin, said: “He doesn’t do it on his own behalf or in a manner that is isolated or secret . . . He [Putin] is the one who has made the threats so it’s with him that we must look for de-escalation.” 

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