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8 Feb, 2022 18:24

Putin makes deal with Macron over Russian troop buildup – FT

The Russian president promised to withdraw up to 30,000 troops from Belarus after joint exercises near the Ukrainian border

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that Moscow will withdraw its troops from Belarus at the end of joint exercises, due to finish later this month, the Financial Times has reported.

Citing unnamed officials in France, the British newspaper announced that, during the course of their five-hour meeting in the Kremlin on Monday, Putin told Macron that Russian soldiers currently in Belarus as part of the ‘Union Resolve 2022’ drills would not stick around after the practice is complete.

The joint exercises, due to last until February 20, also coincide with a reported buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. Moscow stands accused of placing more than 100,000 soldiers on the frontier, with some believing this is a sign of an impending military incursion. This claim has repeatedly been denied by the Kremlin, and it has also been played down by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Belarusian border is less than 200km north of Kiev.

However, if the promise of troop withdrawal is confirmed by Putin, this could significantly reduce tensions that have seen Western nations send soldiers and military equipment to Ukraine. Neither president mentioned any such agreement during the press conference after the talks in Moscow.

According to the FT, Putin also said he would not take any new “military initiatives” and decided to open discussions about the deployment of Russian troops. Furthermore, according to the paper’s sources, the two presidents have agreed to a “structured dialogue on collective security.”

The talks between Putin and Macron also come as discussions between Russia and NATO over a legally binding security deal seem to have stalled. Moscow is looking for the US-led military bloc to agree to stop expanding eastwards and also wants foreign nations to remove their troops and weapons from near the Russian border.

Following the meeting, Macron revealed that he had proposed “concrete security guarantees” to Putin.

“President Putin assured me of his readiness to engage in this sense and his desire to maintain stability and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the French head of state said, while the Russian leader dubbed Macron’s ideas a possible “basis for further joint steps.”

Macron is set to meet Zelensky in Kiev on Tuesday.

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