Kremlin dismisses Biden/Putin peace summit as 'premature' amid clashes in Ukraine

21 February 2022, 07:35 | Updated: 21 February 2022, 12:15

Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to meet Vladimir Putin
Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to meet Vladimir Putin. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Kremlin said it was "premature" to discuss a summit between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden amid growing warnings of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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Hopes were raised after French President Emmanuel Macron brokered a summit 'in principle' between the two leaders, although the Americans said they will only take part if Russians do not invade.

With Russia massing some 150,000 troops on the edge of its ex-Soviet neighbour, Nato leaders are engaging in frenzied diplomacy to avert what some warned could be the bloodiest European conflict since the Second World War.

US intelligence reportedly believes Russian troops have been given orders to prepare to invade.

Mr Biden agreed to talks after French president Emmanuel Macron suggested a summit during talks with Mr Putin on Sunday.

Read more: PM and Macron discuss 'crucial' week ahead amid concerns over 'biggest war since 1945'

Read more: Carry on Queen: Monarch to keep working despite catching Covid in Windsor Castle outbreak

"We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

"And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon."

Ms Psaki did play down the chances of a summit, given the US believes there is a good chance the Russians will send in its forces soon. Any meeting would take place after Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, meet on February 24.

Russia wants guarantees Nato will not expand to include Ukraine and has previously demanded a substantial reduction of the alliance in countries that joined after 1997 – when former several former Warsaw Pact states began joining.

The US and the West have rejected those demands out of hand, but indicated willingness to talk about arms control and military exercises.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has denied it plans to invade, despite the enormous build up on its border with Ukraine, in Crimea - which it has occupied since 2014 - and in Belarus, another ex-Soviet state that has heavily relied on Moscow after pro-democracy disorder erupted previously.

Boris Johnson made his starkest warning yet about a potential conflict in Ukraine after meeting with the country's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a security conference in Munich.

He said that an incursion against Kiev "could be the biggest war in Europe since 1945 just in terms of sheer scale".

Britain has joined the US in moving embassy staff to Lviv, in the west of the country, as fears grow that Russia could make a push to Kiev, the capital.

A Downing Street spokesperson said on Sunday: "The Prime Minister spoke to French president Macron tonight about the situation in Ukraine. They updated one another on their respective diplomatic efforts, including President Macron's call with President Putin today.

"The Prime Minister noted that President Putin's commitments to President Macron were a welcome sign that he might still be willing to engage in finding a diplomatic solution. The Prime Minister stressed that Ukraine's voice must be central in any discussions.

"The leaders agreed on the need for both Russia and Ukraine to meet their commitments under the Minsk Agreements in full. They also underscored the need for President Putin to step back from his current threats and withdraw troops from Ukraine's border.

"The Prime Minister and President Macron agreed next week would be crucial for diplomacy and resolved to stay in close contact."

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