Biden, Putin agree ‘in principle’ to summit amid Ukraine tensions

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Biden, Putin agree ‘in principle’ to summit amid Ukraine tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to a summit over Ukraine, the French leader said on Monday, offering a possible path out of one of the most dangerous European crises in decades.

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement he had pitched to both leaders a summit on “security and strategic stability in Europe.” The White House said in a statement that 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.”

Messages seeking comment from the Kremlin and the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy were not immediately returned early on Monday.

Many details about the proposed summit – which was announced after a volley of phone calls between Macron, Biden, Putin, Zelenskiy, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – are not clear.

Macron’s office and the White House said the substance of the summit would be worked out by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting planned for Feb. 24. What role Ukraine would play in the summit, if any, was also uncertain.

A Biden administration official said in an email that the summit was “completely notional” as the timing and format had yet to be determined.

But Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he was sceptical the summit would happen. “But if Biden and Putin did meet, they should invite (Zelenskiy) to join,” he said in a message posted to Twitter.

News of Macron’s proposal comes after a week of heightened tension spurred by Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders. Russian forces have been amassing around its neighbour since late last year, something Western countries say is a prelude to an invasion that could come at any moment.

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