Kyiv, Ukraine (NewsNation Now) – President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to a summit on Ukraine, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, provided that Russia does not invade its neighbor.
In a statement issued Monday (European Time), the Elysee Palace said Macron had nominated both leaders at a summit on “security and strategic stability in Europe”.
“Presidents Biden and Putin have accepted the principle of such a summit,” the statement said, adding that such a meeting would be impossible if Russia invaded Ukraine, as Western countries fear.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that Biden had accepted the meeting in principle. It comes after a meeting between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov later this week.
“We are always ready for diplomacy,” Psaki said in a statement. “We are also ready to impose quick and serious consequences if Russia chooses war. And now, it seems, Russia is very quickly continuing preparations for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine. “
Earlier, the White House said Biden was canceling a trip to Delaware and staying in Washington after a two-hour meeting of the National Security Council. Instead, Biden spoke on the phone with Macron, the White House said.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian Defense Ministry has announced that Russia will extend military exercises in Belarus, which were due to end on Sunday, adding to tensions as satellite imagery shows new deployments of Russian armored forces and troops near Ukraine.
Russia’s efforts to extend its exercises in Belarus have lifted nerves that have been strained for weeks by the build-up of Russian soldiers along the Ukrainian border. Blinken said the move only made him worried that Russia was on the verge of invasion. Moscow has repeatedly denied such plans.
According to the Associated Press, a U.S. spokesman said Sunday that Biden’s assertion that Putin had decided to deploy Russian troops to Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders had been ordered to make final preparations for the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence.
The US satellite imagery company Maxar has announced several new deployments of Russian military units in forests, farms and industrial areas just nine miles from the border with Ukraine – something that, according to Maxar, is a change from what has been seen in recent weeks.
“Until recently, most deployments were seen mostly located in or near existing military garrisons and training areas,” the company said.
Blinken told CNN that “everything we see is deadly serious,” adding that the West was equally ready for Moscow’s invasion.
“Until the tanks actually fly and the planes fly, we will use every opportunity and every minute to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President (Vladimir) Putin from doing so.”
Blinken said his scheduled meeting with Lavrov is yet to take place this week until Moscow launches the invasion.
“We are talking about the potential of war in Europe,” US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday at a security conference in Munich, Germany, during which world leaders held urgent consultations on the crisis. “More than 70 years have passed, and in those 70 years there has been peace and security.”
Macron’s adviser said that France and Russia had agreed that a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with representatives of Ukraine and Russia should take place on Monday. Poland, which currently holds the OSCE chairmanship, said earlier that it was convening an extraordinary session of its council to prevent armed conflict at Ukraine’s request.
Belarus has not said how long Russian troops there – according to NATO estimates, 30,000 – may remain in the country north of Ukraine. The Minister of Defense of Belarus Viktor Khrenin stated that the focus of the expanded exercises was “ensuring an adequate response and de-escalation of military training of detractors near our common borders.”
Sporadic shelling across the line separating Russian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has intensified sharply since Thursday and continued Sunday.
NATO says Russia could use troops in Belarus to invade Ukraine. Moscow denies any such intentions.
Adviser to the head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine Mykhailo Podalak told Reuters that the extension of the exercise emphasizes that Moscow’s official promises should not be perceived as mandatory.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the West’s repeated warnings that Russia was about to invade were provocative and could have adverse consequences, which he did not outline. Russia says the West has raised tensions by sending NATO reinforcements to Eastern Europe during the crisis.
Western countries are preparing sanctions, which they believe will be large-scale against Russian companies and individuals in the event of an invasion.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that such measures could include restricting Russian businesses’ access to the dollar and the pound. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told German television and radio company ARD that Russia “will in principle be cut off from international financial markets” and from major European exports.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba stated that it is time for the West to implement at least part of the sanctions prepared by it.
“Russia needs to be stopped right now. We see how things are unfolding, ”Kuleba said.
The Biden administration has so far refused to do so, saying their deterrent effect will be lost if they are used too soon.
“Once you trigger them, that deterrence will disappear,” Blinken told CNN’s State of the Union.
The center of tension in recent days has been part of eastern Ukraine, which Russian-backed rebels seized in 2014, the same year that Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict in the east of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in the eastern part of the country. Macron accused the separatists of resuming hostilities, and Putin – Ukraine, said an adviser to the President of France.
On Sunday, a Reuters reporter heard explosions in the separatist-controlled center of Donetsk in eastern Donbass. The sounds of fighting continued until early Monday morning, when an explosion erupted in the center of Donetsk. Its origin was unclear.
Over the past day, more than 30,000 people from Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk crossed the Russian border, TASS reports citing the authorities of the Rostov region of Russia. The separatists began evacuating residents on Friday, saying Ukraine was planning an attack, which Kiev denies.
Local forces in one of the separatist districts, Luhansk, said on Sunday that two civilians had been killed and five buildings damaged as a result of shelling by the Ukrainian military.
The Allied Forces of Ukraine said on Sunday night that pro-Russian forces were shelling their compatriots in eastern Ukraine to accuse them of attacks on Kyiv. The statement could not be verified immediately, although Ukraine and its allies have been warning for weeks about attacks by Russia “under a false flag.”
Two Ukrainian servicemen were reported killed and four wounded on Saturday.
The resumption of fighting in eastern Ukraine came after weeks of Russian troops in the north, east and south of the country. The West estimates that 150,000 or more Russian troops are now on Ukraine’s borders.