Putin to speak with Macron, Biden as tensions amount over Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold separate telephone talks Saturday with United States President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said Friday.

President Biden held a call with leaders of U.S. allies on Friday where they raised concerns about Russia’s buildup of military forces around Ukraine and expressed a desire for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the White House said.

The leaders also agreed to making coordinated efforts to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine, including by being ready to impose “massive consequences and severe economic costs” on Russia should it choose military escalation, the White House said after the call.

They also discussed their readiness to continue “reinforcing the defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank” in case of further escalation by Russia, the White House added.

On Monday, Putin held talks with the French president in Moscow to discuss developments in Ukraine.

U.S. officials say Moscow has assembled 110,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is on track to amass a large enough force – some 150,000 soldiers – for a full-scale invasion by mid-February. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the invasion could take place in the next week, as the U.S. and the U.K. called on their nationals to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.

Russia insists it has no plans to attack and has instead put forward its own demands for security guarantees that it says would ease tensions.

Macron, who is set to visit Kyiv Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told reporters on his plane from Paris that he was “reasonably” optimistic going into the talks.

He did not expect a solution to the crisis in the “short term,” he said, but, he was ready to take Russia’s security concerns seriously.

Moscow has accused the West, in particular Washington and NATO, of ignoring what it says are legitimate concerns for its security.

It is demanding a permanent ban on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, joining the U.S.-led alliance and that the bloc roll back its military presence in eastern Europe.

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