By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin is open to talks on a possible settlement to the conflict in Ukraine and believes in a diplomatic solution, the Kremlin said on Friday after Joe Biden suggested he was prepared to speak to the Russian leader.
Biden, speaking beside French President Emmanuel Macron, said the only way to end the war in Ukraine was for Putin to pull troops out and that if Putin was looking to end the conflict then Biden would be prepared to speak to him.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov struck a dovish tone when asked about Biden's remarks, saying that Putin remained open to negotiations but that Russia would not pull out of Ukraine.
"The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests," Peskov told reporters.
Putin has said he has no regrets about launching what he calls Russia's "special military operation" against Ukraine, casting it as a watershed moment when Russia finally stood up to arrogant Western hegemony after decades of humiliation in the years since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they cast as an imperial-style war of occupation. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is ejected from its territory.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said that he and Macron had agreed they would work together to hold Putin accountable for what he cast as a "barbaric" war - and that the idea of Putin ever defeating Ukraine was beyond comprehension.
Biden, who in March said Putin could not remain in power, said the Kremlin chief had miscalculated by invading Ukraine but that if he was serious about getting out of Ukraine then he would be willing to sit down with Putin after consultation with NATO allies.
Russia has claimed about a fifth of Ukraine's post-Soviet territory, annexations the West and Ukraine say they will never accept.
Peskov said that the refusal of the United States to recognise "the new territories" as Russian was hindering a search for any potential compromise.
"This significantly complicates the search for mutual ground for discussions," Peskov said.
Asked if the way Biden was framing potential contacts meant that negotiations were impossible from a Russian perspective, Peskov said: "In essence, that's what Biden said. He said that negotiations are possible only after Putin leaves Ukraine."
The Kremlin, Peskov said, could not accept that - and the Russian military operation would continue in Ukraine.
"But at the same time - it is very important to give this in conjunction – President Putin has been, is and remains open for contacts, for negotiations. Of course, the most preferable way to achieve our interests is through peaceful, diplomatic means."
The conflict has left tens of thousands of soldiers dead on both sides and triggered the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)