Russia-Ukraine Crisis: The summit, proposed by France’s Emmanuel Macron, will be expanded to relevant stakeholders to discuss “security and strategic stability in Europe.
Following a hectic fresh round of diplomacy to avert an all-out war, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden have agreed to meet — but only if Moscow does not invade Ukraine.
Both leaders have answered yes in principle to the summit, which was requested by French President Emmanuel Macron, according to his office, with the White House confirming Biden’s willingness, although cautious.
A senior administration official told AFP: “Timing to be determined. Format to be determined so it’s all completely notional.”
The summit will be open to “relevant stakeholders,” according to the Elysee, and preparations between Russia and the US will start on Thursday.
The potential breakthrough comes as the US warned of an imminent invasion and Ukraine and Russia criticized each other for a rise in shelling on the front line separating Kyiv’s soldiers from Moscow-backed separatists.
Ukrainians have gone to cellars and other safe places as a result of the bombardment, while some civilians have been evacuated.
In its own statement, the White House warned that it was still ready “to impose swift and severe consequences” should Russia invade.
“And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon,” US press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Russia has gathered more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, according to Washington and other Western capitals, and is ready to launch a full-scale assault.
Moscow has denied any intention of invading its neighbor but has demanded that Ukraine’s application for NATO membership be permanently rejected, as well as the departure of Western forces stationed in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.
The summit was announced just minutes after Macron completed his second marathon call with Putin of the day.
During their first, 105-minute discussion, Putin blamed the increase in violence on the front line on “provocations carried out by the Ukrainian security forces”, according to a Kremlin statement.
Putin repeated a call for “the United States and NATO to take Russian demands for security guarantees seriously”.
But Macron’s office also said the two had agreed on “the need to favor a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis and to do everything to achieve one”.
The pair spoke for an hour the second time, late Sunday evening, according to the French president. Shortly after that, the summit was announced.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously stated that Russia was “on the brink” of invading Ukraine.
According to unknown US media sources, Washington received intelligence last week indicating that the Kremlin has given soldiers the order to attack. When contacted by AFP, the White House, Pentagon, and State Department all declined to comment on the reports.
New Russian army deployments near the border were also visible in satellite photos from a US company.
Macron also spoke with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, who demanded an immediate cease-fire and a return of talks.
“We stand for intensifying the peace process,” Zelensky tweeted, adding that he had informed Macron about “new provocative shelling” on the front line between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels.
That volatile front line has seen a “dramatic increase” in ceasefire violations, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have said.
In a conflict that has raged for eight years and claimed over 14,000 lives, hundreds of artillery and mortar attacks have been reported in recent days.
Overnight, AFP reporters heard further shelling close to the front line between government forces and the Moscow-backed rebels who control parts of Lugansk and Donetsk’s eastern regions.
When the separatist fighting erupted in 2014, an AFP reporter found locals hiding in an earth-floored cellar that was barely equipped in Zolote, a frontline settlement in the Lugansk area.
“These weeks they started shelling harder. Now they are shelling again,” said 33-year-old handyman Oleksiy Kovalenko.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Moscow issued a warning to Americans about potential attacks in public locations in Russia.
Fears of escalation increased earlier this week when Belarus stated that Russian forces will remain on its country after the scheduled completion of joint drills on Sunday, tightening the screws on Ukraine even more.
Moscow earlier stated that its 30,000 troops in Belarus were conducting preparedness drills with its ally, which would be completed by Sunday, allowing the Russians to return to their bases.
Belarus, citing heightened military action on their shared borders and an alleged “escalation” in east Ukraine, said it had chosen to “continue inspections” with Russia.
Despite Russia’s massive military build-up on the frontier, Moscow-backed separatists have accused Ukraine of planning an invasion into their enclave.
This idea is criticized by Kyiv and Western capitals, who accuse Moscow of trying to provoke Ukraine and planning to fabricate incidents as a pretext for a Russian invasion.
Similar claims have been made by rebel regions about Ukraine’s army, sparking a general mobilization and the flight of civilians into Russian territory.
“My husband told me: take the children and go!” 31-year-old nurse Anna Tikhonova told AFP from a camp at Vesselo-Voznessenka, Russia.
She and her children had fled from Gorlovka, Ukraine, to the sound of gunfire, she said.