Russian President Vladimir Putin used a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to accuse the U.S. and NATO of ignoring Russia’s “fundamental concerns” over NATO’s growth.
According to a Kremlin readout of the conversation, Putin argued that Western allies had refused to listen to core Russian demands, including “preventing NATO expansion, refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russian borders” and withdrawing allied forces to positions they held in 1997, prior to the alliance’s eastward enlargement.
His remarks came after the U.S. and NATO this week both said they would not make any concessions on those fronts in written responses delivered to Moscow.
Macron had trumpeted the phone call as a major effort by France to find a diplomatic solution to the military crisis with Russia, which has massed 100,000 troops and heavy weapons and other military equipment on the Ukrainian border.
A senior Elysée Palace official said earlier this week that Macron was planning to offer Putin “a path” to de-escalation.
But if such an offer was put forward, it was clear from the Kremlin’s summary that Putin did not accept it.
Instead, Putin told Macron “the Russian side would carefully study the written responses … after which it would decide on its further actions.” That indicated Putin had pointedly not ruled out military action. The Russian leader has previously warned of a “military-technical” response if the West does not accede to his demands, but he has not specified what such a response might entail.
The Kremlin used the summary of the call to hammer Washington and NATO for not addressing Russia’s central concerns, raising questions about whether Macron had committed a tactical error by attempting the one-on-one conversation before Putin formally addressed the written replies.
In the statement, the Kremlin also complained that the West had failed to address the issue of “indivisibility” of the Euro-Atlantic security — a point that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised earlier in the day during an interview with four Russian radio stations.
“The key question was also ignored: how the United States and its allies intend to follow the principle of indivisibility of security fixed in the basic documents of the OSCE and Russia-NATO, which stipulates that no one should strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other countries,” the Kremlin said.
During an hour-long briefing in Paris, officials confirmed that there had been no breakthrough in the talks, though they described the conversation as an intense heart-to-heart between the two leaders.
According to a senior Elysée official, Putin told Macron that the French president is “the only one with whom he can have such a deep discussion and that he cared about this dialogue.”
The Elysée official said Putin blamed NATO for coming closer to the Russian border and disturbing “an equilibrium,” insisting that NATO should therefore provide Russia with guarantees.
Macron, for his part, told Putin that Russia must respect the sovereignty of other countries in order to ensure Europe’s trust and security.
“President Putin denied he had offensive intentions” when it comes to the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, the Elysée official said.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, told reporters that Russia’s denials of hostile intent did not match the reality on the ground along Ukraine’s borders.
According to the Kremlin, Putin also complained to Macron about Ukraine’s refusal to implement the Minsk 2 peace accord, a deal that was aimed at stopping the war in Donbass. France, along with Germany, is a guarantor of the agreement and participates in the Normandy Format meetings intended to implement the pact.
Western officials generally assert that Russia is a bigger obstacle to implementing the accord, pointing to Russia’s insistence on local elections and autonomy for the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk without first restoring control of the territories and Ukraine’s external borders to Kyiv.
Putin, however, used the phone call to reiterate Russia’s demand that Kyiv grant “special status” to the breakaway regions, according to the Kremlin readout.
In addition to the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin said Macron and Putin discussed the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as work to revive the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“The Presidents of Russia and France agreed to remain in close contact,” the Kremlin said.