U.S. says Biden agrees 'in principle' to summit with Putin if Russia doesn't invade Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as long as that country holds off on what U.S. officials believe is an imminent assault on Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron assisted in brokering potential talks

U.S. warns a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent

10 months ago
Duration 2:31
U.S. officials warned that signs point to an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine despite ongoing diplomatic efforts — something other world leaders say could be the biggest war in Europe since 1945.

The U.S. and Russian presidents have tentatively agreed to meet in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to stave off Moscow's invasion of Ukraine as heavy shelling continued Monday in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that is feared will spark the Russian offensive.

French President Emmanuel Macron sought to broker a possible meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a series of phone calls that dragged into the night.

Macron's office said both leaders had "accepted the principle of such a summit," to be followed by a broader summit meeting also involving other "relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe." It added that the meetings "can only be held on the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, said the Biden administration has been clear that "we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins." She noted that "currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon."

WATCH | CBC's Briar Stewart is on the ground in Russia, with the latest near Ukraine's border

Fear of war rises as Russian equipment rumbles toward Ukraine border

10 months ago
Duration 1:22
CBC correspondent Briar Stewart is near Uspinka, Russia, and reports on convoys of Russian military vehicles heading closer to the Ukrainian border.

Macron's office said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are set to lay the groundwork for the summit when they meet on Thursday.

News that Putin and Biden could meet followed a flurry of calls by Macron to the two leaders, as well as to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Meeting 'possible,' Kremlin says

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Putin and Biden could meet if they consider it necessary, but emphasized that "it's premature to talk about specific plans for a summit."

"The meeting is possible if the leaders consider it feasible," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Blinken intentionally raised the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit in interviews with U.S. television networks on Sunday, in a bid to keep diplomacy alive, a senior U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. reasoning.

Blinken said that Biden was "prepared to meet President Putin at any time in any format if that can help prevent a war" and the U.S. official said Macron had then conveyed the offer of talks to Putin — conditioned on Russia not invading — in his phone calls with the Russian leader.

The prospective meeting offers new hope of averting a Russian invasion that U.S. officials said could begin any moment with an estimated 150,000 Russian troops amassed near Ukraine.

Adding to fears of an imminent attack, Russia and its ally and neighbour Belarus announced Sunday that they were extending massive war games on Belarusian territory that offers a convenient bridgehead for an attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, located just 75 kilometres south of the border with Belarus.

WATCH | Growing fear as eastern regions in Ukraine evacuated: 

Growing fear as Donbas region of Ukraine evacuated

10 months ago
Duration 2:06
People have been evacuated from the Donbas region of Ukraine, which the West says could be part of a manufactured crisis to justify a Russian invasion. But while the politics and loyalties of those trapped under the shadow of impending war may differ, their fear is the same.

Since last Thursday, shelling has spiked along the tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, where over 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in 2014 shortly after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine and the separatists have traded blame for innumerable ceasefire violations with hundreds of explosions recorded daily.

On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as an imminent Ukrainian offensive on the rebel regions. Ukrainian officials have strongly denied any plans to launch such an attack and described the evacuation order as part of Russian provocations intended to set the stage for an invasion.

Reports of civilian deaths due to shelling

The separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours and several others were injured. Ukraine's military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend, and another serviceman was wounded Monday.

Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk said the Ukrainian positions were shelled 80 times Sunday and eight times early Monday, noting that the separatists were "cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields." He insisted that Ukrainian forces weren't returning fire.

Members of the Ukrainian Military Forces walk along trenches in Ukraine's Donetsk region on Monday. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

In the village of Novognativka on the government-controlled side, 60-year-old Ekaterina Evseeva said the shelling was worse than at the height of fighting early in the conflict.

"It's worse than 2014," she said, her voice trembling. "We are on the edge of nervous breakdowns. And there is nowhere to run."

Media report of hit list 'absolute lie,' Kremlin says

Amid the heightened invasion fears, the Kremlin reacted angrily to a New York Times report that the U.S. administration has sent a letter to the United Nations human rights chief claiming that Moscow has compiled a list of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to detention camps after the invasion. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said the claim was an "absolute lie" and no such list exists.

Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won't allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It also urges the alliance to halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.

Ukrainian troops are seen on the front line near the rural settlement of Novoluhanske, in the rebel-held Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine, on Sunday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Russian officials have shrugged off Western calls to de-escalate by pulling back troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct drills wherever it likes on its territory. Last week, Western officials dismissed Russian statements about some of the troops returning to their bases, saying that Moscow was actually beefing up its forces around Ukraine.

Holding off on sanctions

Western nations have threatened massive sanctions if Russia does invade.

U.S. officials on Sunday defended their decision to hold off on their planned financial punishments of Russia ahead of any invasion, after Zelensky called passionately on Saturday for the West to do more.

"If you pull the trigger on that deterrent, well then, it doesn't exist anymore as a deterrent," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Fox News on Washington's sanctions threat.

The EU will not impose sanctions on Russia just yet, the bloc's foreign policy chief said on Monday, rebuffing a call from Kyiv to take such steps now to avert a war, rather than wait until after any possible Russian invasion.

"We expect decisions," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after arriving in Brussels to address a regularly scheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers.

"There are plenty of decisions the European Union can make now to send clear messages to Russia that its escalation will not be tolerated and Ukraine will not be left on its own."

Russia held nuclear drills on Saturday, as well as the conventional exercises in Belarus, and has ongoing naval drills off the coast in the Black Sea.

PHOTOS | Russia launches massive drills of its nuclear forces:

Tensions mounted further on Sunday after the U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued an advisory urging greater caution by Americans in Russia overall. "Have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance," it warned.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government on Sunday issued an advisory urging citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Belarus "due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws and the risk of armed conflict with Ukraine."

With files from CBC News and Reuters


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