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Biden and Putin agree to hold summit, Macron says

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to a summit over Ukraine, French president, Emmanuel Macron, 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 from the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy were not immediately returned early on Monday.

Read Also: Russia Returns Some Troops from Ukraine Border Amid Invasion Fears

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.

Oil prices fell, Asian share markets pared losses and Wall Street futures rallied as the glimmer of hope for a diplomatic solution emerged.

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.

Russia denies any intention to invade, but nerves were further frayed when the Belarusian defence ministry announced that Russia would extend military drills in Belarus that were due to end on Sunday.

U.S.-based satellite imagery company Maxar reported multiple new deployments of Russian military units in forests, farms, and industrial areas as little as 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

Blinken said on Sunday that the extension of the exercises in Belarus, bordering Ukraine to the north, made him more worried that Russia was on the brink of an attack.

“Until the tanks are actually rolling, and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” he told CNN.

In a letter to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, seen by Reuters on Sunday, the United States raised concern that “further Russian invasion of Ukraine may create a human rights catastrophe.”

“Specifically, we have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” wrote U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Bathsheba Nell Crocker.

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