The meeting between Biden and Putin was discussed amid fears of war in Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) – The presidents of the United States and Russia have previously agreed to meet in a recent diplomatic attempt to prevent Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as heavy shelling of the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues on Monday, which they fear will lead to Russia’s offensive.

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

Macron’s office said both leaders “accepted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader summit with other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe.” He added that the meetings “can be held only if Russia does not invade Ukraine.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration had made it clear that “we are committed to diplomacy until the invasion begins.” She noted that “Russia now seems to be preparing for a full-scale attack on Ukraine in the near future.”

Macron’s office said that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are going to lay the groundwork for the summit when they meet on Thursday.

This came after a flurry of calls from Macron to Putin, Biden, as well as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson and the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Kremlin has not yet commented on the announcement of a possible Putin-Biden summit, but has always said that Putin is always open to such a meeting.

The prospective meeting gives new hope for preventing the Russian invasion, which, according to US officials, could begin at any time with about 150,000 Russian troops gathered near Ukraine.

In addition to fearing an imminent invasion, Russia and its ally Belarus announced on Sunday that they were expanding mass war games on Belarusian territory, offering a convenient base for attacking Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, just 75 kilometers (less than 50 miles). south of the border with Belarus.

Since Thursday, shelling has also intensified along a tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial center, Donbas, where more than 14,000 people have been killed since the 2014 Moscow conflict erupted in Moscow. peninsula of Crimea.

Ukraine and the rebels have exchanged responsibility for mass violations of the ceasefire: hundreds of explosions are recorded daily.

On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as Ukraine’s imminent attack on rebel regions. Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied any plans to launch such an attack and have described the evacuation order as part of Russia’s provocations aimed at preparing the ground for the invasion.

On Monday, separatist authorities said that Ukrainian shelling had killed at least four civilians and injured several more in recent days. The Ukrainian military said a Ukrainian soldier was wounded, saying separatists “cynically shelled residential areas using civilians as a shield” and insisting that Ukrainian forces did not respond to the fire.

Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, but wants assurances from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. He also called on the alliance to stop the deployment of weapons in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – demands that the West has categorically rejected.

Russian officials have deviated from Western calls for de-escalation by withdrawing troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct exercises on its territory anywhere. Last week, Western officials rejected Russia’s claims that some troops were returning to their bases, saying Moscow was in fact stepping up its forces around Ukraine.

A U.S. official said Sunday that Biden’s assertion last week that Putin had decided to send Russian troops into Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders had been ordered to begin final preparations for the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence.

Russia also raised its bid on Saturday, holding extensive nuclear exercises that included multiple practical launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that Putin personally controlled.

The President of Ukraine reaffirmed his call for a speedy meeting with Putin to help defuse tensions, but there was no response from the Kremlin.

The EU’s top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Barrel, welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit, but said that if diplomacy failed, the 27-nation bloc had completed its sanctions package for use if Putin ordered an invasion.

“The job is done. We are ready, ”said Barel, who is chairing the meeting of EU foreign ministers. He did not say which red line would lead to these measures, but said he was convening an urgent meeting of foreign ministers if he crossed it, “and I will present sanctions at the right time.”

Barrel was instructed to compile a list of people in Russia who will be subject to asset freezes and travel bans. He did not provide details on who could be the target.

The European Commission has prepared other sanctions to “restrict access to financial markets for the Russian economy and (introduce) export controls that will stop Russia’s ability to modernize and diversify its economy,” said President Ursula von der Leyen. weekend.

In the Ukrainian capital, people prayed for peace as fears of war grew.

Ekaterina Spanchak, who fled the separatist-controlled east, was among the faithful who pressed into the capital’s St. Michael’s Monastery, lit by candles lit by believers to pray for Ukraine’s preservation.

“We all love life, and we are all united by our love of life,” said Spanchak, stopping to gather. “We have to appreciate it every day. So I think everything will be fine. “

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Karmanov reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Cook from Brussels. Lori Hinnant in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; and Ellen Nickmaier, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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