KYIV, Ukraine—The Ukrainian armed forces geared up to conduct military exercises in response to Russia’s troop buildup along its border, as French President
shuttled between the countries in an attempt to ease tensions.
Ukrainian Defense Minister
said in a television interview late Monday that the drills would begin Feb. 10 and last more than a week, coinciding with Russia’s plans to hold joint drills with ally Belarus. Mr. Reznikov said service members would be trained to use weapons supplied by foreign allies, including drones from Turkey, antitank weapons from the U.S. and antitank missiles from the U.K.
Ukraine’s announcement came as Mr. Macron traveled to Kyiv on Tuesday after discussing the outlines of a plan with President
of Russia to defuse the Ukraine crisis and thaw tensions between the Kremlin and the West.
A French official said the two leaders discussed the possibility of Russia committing to not take new military actions and to withdraw troops from Belarus after the end of military exercises there that began last month. Messrs. Macron and Putin also considered proposals to start a new dialogue on collective security, the French official said.
Ukrainian servicemen near Donetsk, in the country’s east.
Gaelle Girbes/Getty Images
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said Russian troops would leave Belarus after the exercises were complete. He denied media reports that Mr. Putin had made concessions to Mr. Macron during their hourslong meeting, adding, “No one has ever said that Russian troops will remain on the territory of Belarus, this has never been discussed.”
Mr. Macron’s visit to the Ukrainian capital to meet with President
was part of a round of shuttle diplomacy that the French leader hopes will help avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Putin has massed more than 100,000 combat-ready troops near Ukraine’s borders and warned of an unspecified retaliation if the West fails to accept his security demands.
At the core of the latest round of talks is the question of the Minsk-2 agreement, a deal that Kyiv signed up to after its army was dealt a heavy blow in February 2015 during the height of the conflict with Russia-backed forces in Donbas, eastern Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Paris last month to discuss ways of implementing the Minsk-2 agreement and are slated to meet again in Berlin later this week.
The deal, which has remained dormant as Kyiv and Moscow disagreed over how to implement it, could give Russia a significant say in Ukraine’s future and offer Mr. Putin a potentially face-saving way to de-escalate the current crisis if his demands are met.
Asked during a joint press conference with Mr. Macron whether the Minsk agreement has a chance of surviving, Mr. Putin said Ukraine’s government had vacillated too long.
France and Germany sponsor the Minsk negotiating process, and some Ukrainian officials are concerned that Mr. Macron might push Kyiv to agree to demands that threaten Ukraine’s ability to remain a sovereign country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Macron following talks in Moscow.
Sergei Guneyev/Associated Press
On Monday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
said after meeting his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, that no such pressure was being applied, so far.
“A question popular in Ukraine right now is whether foreign guests push Ukrainian authorities into certain concessions,” he said. “I can say that today, during the meeting, Annalena didn’t push me into any concessions.”
The U.S., NATO and Russia are caught in a diplomatic standoff over Moscow’s buildup of troops at the border with Ukraine. WSJ looks at what Russia wants and how Ukraine and its allies are preparing for a potential crisis. Photo: Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press
Mr. Kuleba said he hoped that the Berlin meeting on Minsk-2 could be followed up by another round of talks. Diplomats say it isn’t at all certain that Moscow would agree to drag out these negotiations absent tangible concessions from Kyiv. The U.S. has warned that Russia could launch an imminent invasion. Moscow, which is launching large-scale war games in Belarus on Thursday, denies it plans to attack Ukraine.
Mr. Kuleba said Ukraine’s focus is on ensuring that any negotiations over its fate don’t cross certain red lines, including any concessions on Ukraine’s sovereignty or any direct negotiations with the Russian-installed authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv considers these authorities to be Russian proxies and says that agreeing to negotiate with them would absolve Moscow of its responsibility for the eight-year conflict. Ukraine committed under Minsk-2 to constitutional reforms that could be interpreted in a way allowing Donetsk and Luhansk to have a veto over national policies.
Joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at a firing range in Belarus.
handout/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Mr. Putin in Moscow appeared to dismiss Ukraine’s red lines, saying that Kyiv’s refusal to negotiate with the Russian-backed proxies in Donbas was a violation of the Minsk-2 agreement. “How would it work otherwise?” he said.
Mr. Zelensky, elected in 2019 on promises of a detente with Russia, initially sought to revive the Minsk talks, securing a limited prisoner exchange, but ran into widespread public opposition to concessions.
The question of the Minsk agreements has been charged in Ukraine since they were signed. Deadly clashes erupted outside the Ukrainian parliament in 2015 as lawmakers discussed expanding Donbas’s autonomy. Four national guardsmen were killed in the violence and scores of demonstrators were wounded. Fifty-four percent of respondents to a December survey conducted by Ukrainian pollster Rating supported negotiating new terms with Russia with the help of international mediators. Twelve percent said Kyiv should comply with the terms of the agreements.
—Brett Forrest contributed to this article.
Write to Matthew Dalton at [email protected]
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