Macron reaffirms solidarity with Ukraine in call with Ukraine's leader

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French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed France’s solidarity with Ukraine in a phone call Friday with President Volodymyr Zelensky amid tensions between Moscow and Kyiv. In an earlier phone call, Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the need to “de-escalate" the situation. Follow Friday's events as they happened in our coverage below.

22:29 Paris time: Ukraine’s Zelensky says diplomacy must continue if conditions allow

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after his phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron late on Friday that intensive international negotiations reduced "the chance of escalation" in Kyiv's stand-off with Moscow.

"As long as conditions are conducive, we must meet & talk," Zelensky said in a tweet, adding that he agreed with his French counterpart to keep up the pace of diplomatic talks.

21:53 Paris time: Macron and Zelensky agree to continue work to de-escalate tensions amid Russian troop build-up

French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed France's full solidarity with Ukraine in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Friday amid tension over Russia’s troop build-up near the country’s eastern borders, the French presidency said in a statement.

Macron and Zelensky agreed to continue efforts to de-escalate tensions and work within the Normandy format to implement the 2015 Minsk agreements, which called for a ceasefire in parts of two regions in eastern Ukraine where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces.

Macron also reiterated his determination to preserve Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

20:22 Paris time: Top US general says Russian invasion of Ukraine would be ‘horrific’

If Russia unleashes the forces it has amassed near Ukraine's border to invade its neighbour, the outcome would be "horrific" and result in significant casualties, the top US military officer said on Friday, comparing the situation to the Cold War.

Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Milley said that given the types of forces Russia has arrayed, "all of it packaged together, if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties”.

He added: "And you can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific, it would be terrible."

Speaking alongside Milley, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that while the US does not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a decision whether to invade, he “clearly” now has the military capability to do so.

“There are multiple options available to (invade) including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also coercive acts and provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories," Austin said.

18:00 Paris time: Ukraine’s Zelensky says talk of potential Russian invasion has economic cost

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Friday called on the West to avoid creating "panic" in the face of the Russian troop build-up near the two countries' borders.

"We don't need this panic," Zelensky said at a news conference with foreign media.

He pointed to the need to "stabilise" Ukraine's already battered economy as he insisted he saw no greater threat now than during a similar massing of Russian troops last spring.

"Because of all these signals that tomorrow there will be war, there are signals even from respected leaders of states, they just say that tomorrow there will be war. This is panic – how much does it cost for our state?" he asked.

"The greatest risk for Ukraine ... is the destabilisation of the situation inside the country," Zelensky said.

The attempts by the Ukrainian leader to tamp down tensions come as some Western allies – spearheaded by the United States – have warned of a potentially imminent invasion by Moscow.

The US, Britain and Australia recently angered Kyiv by ordering the families of diplomats to leave their embassies in Ukraine.

Zelensky on Friday also called on Russia to prove its claims it has no intention of invading Ukraine after massing troops near the borders.

"They say this openly, in different media, from different officials – so they could at least show some steps to prove it," Zelensky said.

16:35 Paris time: Macron and Putin agree on need for ‘de-escalation’ in Ukraine crisis

Macron and Putin agreed on the need for a "de-escalation" in the Ukraine crisis during a call on Friday, with the Russian president saying he had "no offensive plans", an aide to Macron said.

The call "enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation," the aide said during a briefing with journalists, adding: "President Putin expressed no offensive plans and said he wanted to continue the talks with France and our allies.

15:49 Paris time: Biden, EU’s von der Leyen pledge to arrange alternative natural gas sources amid standoff with Russia

The United States and European Union said Friday they are working together to find alternative supplies of natural gas to protect the EU in case key energy supplier Russia retaliates against sanctions.

US President Joe Biden and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they are "working jointly towards continued, sufficient, and timely supply of natural gas to the EU from diverse sources across the globe to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a further Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

14:58 Paris time: Danish fighter jets arrive in Lithuania amid concern over Russian troops in Belarus

Four Danish F-16 fighter jets arrived in Lithuania after the country appealed for a greater NATO presence because of Russia's military build-up around Ukraine, officials said on Friday.

Denmark's decision to send the jets "comes at just the right time", Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said at a ceremony at the Baltic state's northern air base in Siauliai.

The fighter planes will patrol Lithuanian air space until April 1 along with four Polish fighters that have been stationed there since December 1. Several exercises are planned.

The Baltic states feel threatened amid the current tensions between Russia and the West, with Moscow demanding that NATO scrap its "Enhanced Forward Presence" in the Baltics and Poland.

"This is an extremely worrying time not just for Lithuania but for all the NATO allies," Nauseda said.

Lithuania is particularly concerned by Russian troop movements in neighbouring Belarus.

The forces there "are many more than during the Zapad military exercises" between Russia and Belarus last year, Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said.

14:33 Paris time: US, NATO response to Russia’s security proposals don’t address main concerns, Putin tells Macron

Russian President Putin told his French counterpart Macron that the responses from the United States and NATO to Russian security proposals did not address Moscow's main concerns, according to a Friday statement from the Kremlin,

"The US and NATO responses did not take into account Russia's fundamental concerns including preventing NATO's expansion and refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russia's borders," Putin told Macron, according to a readout of their call published by the Kremlin.

Russia earlier sent its strongest signal so far that it is willing to engage with US security proposals and reiterated that it does not want war over Ukraine. The Kremlin said Putin would closely study the proposals and then decide on further action.

The Kremlin also said that Putin and Macron agreed to continue dialogue on a range of issues concerning European security, the TASS news agency reported.

13:40 Paris time: After Putin, Macron to speak with Ukraine’s Zelensky

French President Macron spoke for more than an hour on the phone with his Russian counterpart Putin, but no details have yet emerged from that conversation.

Later tonight, at 7pm Paris time, Macron is scheduled to speak with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

13:08 Paris time: Why the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become a bargaining chip

Running from Russia’s Baltic coast to northeastern Germany, the 1,200-kilometre (745-mile) underwater pipeline has the capacity to send 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to Europe and would increase the continent’s access to relatively cheap natural gas.

The reason it is controversial is because it bypasses Ukraine’s pipeline infrastructure, depriving the country of around a billion euros annually in gas transit fees and, Kiev fears, removing a key check on potential Russian aggression. In past disputes with Russia, Ukraine has had its gas supply cut off several times.

11:52 Paris time: Lithuania and Germany in talks on more troops in Lithuania

Lithuania and Germany are in talks to increase German military presence in Lithuania “in light of current events”, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Friday.

“We are talking about possibilities to expand, increase the German and the Enhanced Forward Presence forces in Lithuania, as we need to strengthen the eastern flank of NATO in light of the current events.”

11:35 Paris time: Russian military build-up would allow an invasion ‘with little warning’

US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan told an online briefing that the size of the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders would allow an invasion with little warning.

He also warned that economic sanctions on Russia would be just one part of the West’s response if the Russian military were to invade Ukraine. Other measures would include export controls and greater defence of allies in Europe and prevent the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany from operating.

11:40 Paris time: Macron to speak with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron was due to speak by phone with Putin on Friday.

“It is up to Vladimir Putin to say if he wants consultations or confrontation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio, asking whether the Russian leader wanted to be a “destabilising power” or would seek de-escalation.

9:30 Paris time: ‘War only possible if Belarus or Russia are attacked,’ says Lukashenko

In a speech in parliament this morning, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said his country has no interest in war, and that a conflict would only break out if his country, or its close ally Russia were attacked directly.

The West is currently on edge as Minsk and Moscow plan to hold joint military drills in Belarus, which flanks Ukraine’s northern border. Russia has already deployed thousands of soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern border.

9:20 Paris time: Russia says Moscow ‘does not want war with Ukraine’

“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations in a Friday interview.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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