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France denies showing readiness for Ukraine dialogue in Russia talks

By John Irish and Ronald Popeski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -France denied Russian claims that it expressed willingness to hold dialogue on Ukraine or discuss possible peace negotiations when the two countries' defence ministers spoke on Wednesday.

Two years after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, Russia's defence ministry said, "Readiness for a dialogue on Ukraine was noted" in the call between France's Sebastien Lecornu and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.

It said a starting point for discussions could be the 2022 talks between the Russia and Ukraine sides in Turkey which ended without results.

"It is not true," a French government source said. "At no moment did we show any willingness to dialogue on Ukraine or negotiations or anything like that."

A French readout of the call, the officials' first since October 2022 and initiated by Paris, said the discussion focused on the heightened terrorism threat following an attack in Moscow claimed by ISIS-K, an affiliate of Islamic State.

The Russian statement also said any notion of holding a meeting in Switzerland on achieving peace in Ukraine was "pointless" if Russia was not a participant. Kyiv has proposed a "world summit", but has said Russia would not be invited.

Franco-Russian relations have deteriorated in recent months as Paris has increased its support to Ukraine, including signing a bilateral long-term security accord and promising to send more long-range cruise missiles.

President Emmanuel Macron has adopted a tougher position on Russia, vowing that Moscow must be defeated, and has not ruled out that European troops may one day go to Ukraine, although he has made clear that France has no intention of instigating hostilities against Russia.

The Russian statement said Shoigu noted any "practical implementation" of Macron's suggestion last month of sending troops to Ukraine would "create problems for France."

In contrast, the French defence ministry statement condemned the "war of aggression" launched by Russia on Ukraine.

"France will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes and as intensely as needed," it said.

Shoigu, according to the ministry statement, repeated Moscow's contention that Russia believed there was a Ukrainian link to the mass shooting last month at a concert hall outside Moscow.

Paris has accused Russia of habitually spreading false information and this week said it would propose EU sanctions on Russians involved in spreading disinformation.

ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack, Ukraine denies any link and Western nations have dismissed any such connection to Kyiv.

With the Summer Olympics in Paris in July, France is on its highest security alert. The French statement said Paris was ready to increase cooperation to fight the terrorist threat.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)