MOSCOW (REUTERS, AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that he intends to withdraw Russian troops from Belarus as soon as ongoing military exercises there are over, Macron’s office said on Sunday (Feb 20).
Following a call between both leaders, the French presidency said that this claim “will have to be verified”, adding it appeared to contradict a statement by the Belarusian government that the Russian military would “continue inspections” beyond Sunday’s previously announced end of the exercises, leaving Moscow with a large force near the northern Ukraine border.
They also discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin said in a statement.
"In view of the urgency of the situation, the Presidents acknowledged the need to intensify the search for solutions through diplomatic means via the foreign ministries and political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy format," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"These contacts should facilitate the restoration of the ceasefire regime and ensure progress in the settlement of the conflict in Donbass," the Kremlin added.
In a separate call earlier on Sunday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed possible ways to secure immediate de-escalation.
In a phone conversation lasting 105 minutes, Macron and Putin also agreed on "the need to favour a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis and to do everything to achieve one", Macron's office said, adding that both countries' foreign ministers would meet "in the coming days".