France’s Macron says Putin told him Russia will not escalate the Ukraine crisis

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
(Pool photo by Thibault Camus)

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 Zelensky amid mounting fears of a Russian invasion. Moscow has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, but insists it has no plans to attack.

The Kremlin wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet republics as members, that it will halt weapon deployments there and that it will roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands that the U.S. and NATO reject as nonstarters.

At a news conference after his meeting with Zelensky, Macron said Putin told him during their more than five-hour meeting Monday that “he won’t be initiating an escalation. I think it is important.”

According to the French president, Putin also said there wouldn’t be any Russian “permanent [military] base” or “deployment” in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, where Russia had sent a large number of troops for major war games.

World leaders are trying to walk a diplomatic tightrope that could mean the difference between a Russian incursion and an uneasy peace in Ukraine.

Peskov said withdrawing Russian troops from Belarus after the maneuvers was the plan all along.

Zelensky said he would welcome concrete steps from Putin for de-escalation, adding that he didn’t “trust words in general.”

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.”

Zelensky 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,” Zelensky said.

He said France was giving Ukraine $1.3 billion in financial aid and helping to 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 landing ships were moving from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea for exercises and two long-range nuclear-capable bombers flew another patrol over Belarus.

Plenty of residents of Kyiv don’t seem to think their capital is on borrowed time, but some are girding for a potential Russian invasion anyway.

Macron said he did not expect 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” when he initiated an exchange of written documents with the U.S. Moscow submitted its demands to Washington in the form of draft agreements that were released to the public and insisted on a written response, which was leaked to the news media.

“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 that was why he decided to travel to Moscow for direct talks.

Macron later flew to Berlin, where he briefed Polish President Andrzej Duda and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said their stance was unified, with a joint goal “to prevent a war in Europe.”

Putin said after the meeting that the U.S. and NATO had ignored Moscow’s demands, but signaled his 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.

U.S. officials say Russia has assembled at least 70% of the military firepower it likely intends to have in place by mid-month to give Russian President Vladimir Putin the option of launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

NATO, U.S. and European leaders reject the demands that they say challenge NATO’s core principles, such as shutting the door to Ukraine or other countries that might seek membership, but they have offered to discuss other Russian security concerns in Europe.

President Biden has said that any prospect of Ukraine entering NATO “in the near term is not very likely,” but he and other NATO member nations and NATO itself refuse to rule out Ukraine’s entry into the alliance at a future date.

Slog of trench warfare in eastern Ukraine yields scenes reminiscent of World War I.

Biden met Monday with Scholz, who will travel to Kyiv and Moscow on Feb. 14-15. They threatened Russia with grave consequences if it invaded, and Biden vowed that the Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, which has been completed but is not yet operating, would be blocked. Such a move would hurt Russia economically but also disrupt Germany’s energy supply.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in an article in the Times of London, also urged allies to finalize heavy economic sanctions that would take effect if Russia crosses into Ukraine. He said the U.K. is ready to bolster NATO forces in Latvia and Estonia as he prepared to meet the Lithuanian prime minister in London to show support for the Baltic nations.

Johnson said he was considering dispatching Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters and Royal Navy warships to southeastern Europe. Britain said Monday it was sending 350 troops to Poland to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. It already has sent antitank weapons to Ukraine.

More than 100 U.S. military personnel have arrived in Romania ahead of a deployment of about 1,000 NATO troops expected in the country in the coming days, Romania’s Defense Minister Vasile Dincu said.

U.S. officials have said that about 1,000 alliance troops would be sent from Germany to Romania, a NATO member since 2004. Romania borders Ukraine to the north. About 1,700 U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are also going to Poland.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan says Russia could invade Ukraine ‘any day,’ launching a conflict that would come at an ‘enormous human cost.’

U.S. officials have portrayed the threat of an invasion of Ukraine as imminent — warnings that Moscow has scoffed at, accusing Washington of fueling tensions.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president was ousted, Moscow annexed Crimea and then backed a separatist insurgency in the east of the country. The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed more than 14,000 people.

In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal, the so-called Minsk agreements, that ended large-scale hostilities but failed to bring a political settlement of the conflict. The Kremlin has repeatedly accused Kyiv of sabotaging the deal, and Ukrainian officials in recent weeks said that implementing it would hurt Ukraine.

After meeting Macron, Putin said without elaboration that some of the French president’s proposals could serve as a basis for a settlement of the separatist conflict, adding that they agreed to speak by phone after Macron’s visit to Kyiv.

Perhaps his new enthusiasm for diplomacy last week meant Putin isn’t bent on war after all.

Peskov said such a call would take place “in the nearest future.”

Macron said both Putin and Zelensky confirmed to him that they were willing to implement the Minsk agreements — “the only path allowing to build peace ... and find a sustainable political solution.”

He added that the presidential advisors of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine would meet Thursday in Berlin to discuss next steps. “It will take time to get results,” he said.

Zelensky was mum on where Ukraine stands on implementing the Minsk agreements and whether he assured Macron that Kyiv was committed to doing so, saying only that his country viewed Thursday’s meeting “very positively” and hoped for a subsequent meeting by the four leaders.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, visiting the front line in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, said she wanted “to get an impression of what it means that we still have war in the middle of Europe.”

Germany has given Ukraine about $2 billion in aid since 2014, part of which is helping those displaced by fighting.