Macron warns against ‘escalation’ after Biden brands Putin ‘butcher’

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Remarks has narrowed window for bilateral relations

France’s President Emmanuel Macron warned Sunday against a verbal “escalation” of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, after US President Joe Biden branded Vladimir Putin a “butcher” who “cannot remain in power”.

The Kremlin had reacted in fury over Biden’s comments which it said narrows the window for bilateral relations, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now into a second month.

Macron said he would speak to Putin in the next two days to organise the evacuation of civilians from the heavily bombarded port city of Mariupol.

The French leader told broadcaster France 3 that he saw his task as “achieving first a ceasefire and then the total withdrawal of (Russian) troops by diplomatic means.”

“If we want to do that, we can’t escalate either in words or actions. Ukraine was making a new push to get civilians out of the city on Sunday, with an aid route agreement for people to leave by cars or on evacuation buses, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

Several attempts at establishing safe routes for civilians to flee have collapsed as both sides trade blame for violating temporary ceasefires.

Mariupol, in the region of Donetsk, has borne the brunt of Russia’s assaults, and residents who managed to flee have recounted harrowing scenes of death and destruction.

About 170,000 people remain trapped in the besieged city and authorities have said they fear some 300 civilians may have died in a Russian strike on March 17 that hit a theatre being used as a bomb shelter.

In an impassioned speech from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden blasted Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” the US leader said, before the White House clarified that Washington was not seeking regime change. The Kremlin snapped back, saying “a head of state should stay sober”.

Personal attacks, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, were “narrowing down the window of opportunity” for bilateral relations.

“Biden is weak, sick and unhappy,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, president of the lower house of parliament. Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, vowing to destroy the country’s military and topple pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.—AFP

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