© Reuters. Ukrainian service members walk near the front line near the city of Novoluhanske in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
By Dmitry Antonov and Michel Rose
MOSCOW/PARIS (Reuters) -The Kremlin on Monday said there were no concrete plans for a summit over Ukraine between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, after the French president said the two leaders had agreed on a meeting in principle.
A summit might offer a path out of Europe’s biggest military crisis in decades, and European financial markets edged higher on the glimmer of hope for a diplomatic solution. But by 1200 GMT they were in the red, and Russian stocks had plunged 7-8%. [MKTS/GLOB]
Both Washington and Moscow played down hopes of a breakthrough, and satellite imagery appeared to show Russian deployments closer to Ukraine’s border than before.
Western countries accuse Russia of planning to invade a neighbour that it had controlled for centuries until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Moscow denies planning any attack but has demanded sweeping security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO.
Nerves frayed further when Moscow’s close ally Belarus announced on Sunday that Russia would extend military exercises there.
Russia has tens of thousands of soldiers in Belarus – part of what Washington says is a force now numbering 169,000-190,000 troops in the region, including pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
After talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, British foreign minister Liz Truss said Western countries were preparing for a “worst-case scenario”. The airlines Lufthansa, KLM and Air France all cancelled flights to Kyiv.
But the European Union rebuffed a call from Kyiv to impose some sanctions now to try to avert war before it started.
SUMMIT OR SANCTIONS?
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said a call or meeting between Putin and Biden could be set up at any time, but there were no concrete plans yet for a summit. Tensions were growing, he said, but a foreign ministers’ meeting was possible this week.
Macron’s office and the White House said the substance of the plan would be worked out by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting planned for Thursday.
An adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron told Reuters that Macron had put the summit proposal to Putin at Biden’s request.
“We’re slowly changing the course of things,” said the adviser, who declined to be named.
The White House said Biden had accepted the meeting “in principle” but only “if an invasion hasn’t happened”.
“We are always ready for diplomacy,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences, should Russia instead choose war.”
Ukraine said it must be included in any decisions aimed at resolving the crisis, and that it had seen warnings online that hackers were…
Read More: Kremlin says no concrete plans for summit with Biden over Ukraine By