French President Emmanuel Macron and the Kremlin delivered contradictory statements Tuesday on the outcome of a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine.
The two leaders met for more than five hours in Moscow on Monday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, triggered by Putin massing more than 100,000 troops near the country’s borders.
Neither Macron nor Putin announced any deal but a senior Elysée official later told reporters the Russian leader had committed not to undertake any “new military initiatives ” — only to be contradicted by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov a few hours later.
The Elysée later backtracked, saying that a commitment to no new military initiatives was merely discussed — rather than agreed to — at the meeting.
However, at a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Tuesday, Macron insisted he had received assurances from Putin on the military front.
“He told me that he would not initiate an escalation, and I think this is important,” Macron said.
Earlier in the day, Peskov dismissed reports of an agreement. “Given the current situation, Moscow and Paris could not have struck any deals. It’s simply impossible,” he said, according to Russian news agency TASS.
the Elysée had also claimed that another outcome of the meeting was a commitment that Russian troops participating in a military exercise in Belarus would go back to Russia once the exercise is over — a point also echoed by Macron on Tuesday.
“The second important element was that there would be no permanent bases or deployments of sensitive equipment in Belarus. I believe that this has been confirmed,” he said.
But the Kremlin also played down this claim. Peskov declared that no one had ever said the Russian troops would remain in Belarus after the exercise.
At their meeting in Kyiv, Macron and Zelenskiy pledged to boost economic ties between their countries. Watched over by the two presidents, top executives from France’s Alstom and Ukraine’s railway company Ukrzaliznytsia signed an agreement for the sale of 130 Alstom locomotives to the Ukrainian operator.
David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting