Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media ahead of a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday. AP
European leaders on Tuesday pledged unity in their goal of averting war on the continent, as France's President Emmanuel Macron said he saw a path forward on easing tensions with Russia over Ukraine after an urgent round of shuttle diplomacy.
Macron, the first leader of a major Western power to meet Vladimir Putin since Russia massed troops near Ukraine, said on Tuesday he believed steps can be taken to de-escalate the crisis and called on all sides to stay calm.
Macron, who in contrast to the US and British leaders, has played down the likelihood that Russia may soon invade its neighbour, shuttled from Moscow to Kyiv on Tuesday in a bid to mediate a settlement and avoid war.
Arriving in Berlin after two days of talks in Kyiv and Moscow, Macron urged continued "firm dialogue" with Russia as the only way to defuse fears Russia could invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks to the media. File photo
The French leader, who on Monday had a five-hour meeting with Vladimir Putin, said the Russian president had told him that Russia "would not be the source of an escalation", despite amassing more than 100,000 troops and military hardware on Ukraine's border.
Macron said he now saw the "possibility" for talks involving Moscow and Kyiv over the festering conflict in eastern Ukraine to move forward, and "concrete, practical solutions" to lower tensions between Russia and the West.
The French president had no breakthroughs to announce but Macron said he thought his talks had helped prevent the crisis from escalating further. He said had never expected "for one second" that Putin would make concessions.
Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had told him they were committed to the principles of a 2014 peace agreement, he said, adding that this deal, known as the Minsk accords, offered a path to resolving their ongoing disputes.
Emmanuel Macron (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a news briefing following their talks in Kyiv. Reuters
"This shared determination is the only way allowing us to create peace, the only way to create a viable political solution," Macron told a joint news conference with Zelenskiy.
"Calm ... is essential from all parties in words and in deeds," Macron said, praising Zelenskiy for the "sangfroid" he and the Ukrainian people were showing as Russia amasses more than 100,000 troops, tanks and heavy weapons on Ukraine's borders.
Zelenskiy made clear he was sceptical of any assurances Macron may have received from Putin. "I do not really trust words, I believe that every politician can be transparent by taking concrete steps," he said.
Moscow denies any plans to invade but is seeking sweeping concessions from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance which has underpinned security in western Europe since 1949.
Olaf Scholz (left), Andrzej Duda and Emmanuel Macron attend a joint news conference in Berlin. Reuters
The demands include a promise of no missile deployments near Russia's borders, a scaling back of NATO infrastructure and a ban on Ukraine ever joining the alliance.
Russia's military build-up gained momentum on Tuesday with the arrival of three warships in the Black Sea, according to a Reuters witness. Turkish sources said another three were expected to pass through the Bosporus on Wednesday, in what Russia's Interfax news agency reported as a pre-planned exercise.
Macron flew later to Berlin for meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In a statement alongside Macron before the talks began, Scholz told reporters: "Our common goal is to prevent a war in Europe."
"Our appraisal of the situation is united, as is our position on this: any further attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is unacceptable and will draw wide-reaching consequences for Russia - politically, economically and geo-strategically," he added.
Macron and Scholz also met in Berlin with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The French presidency said after the talks the three leaders expressed their joint support for Ukrainian sovereignty.
The meeting further illustrated the European convergence on a "committed and demanding approach" toward Russia, the French presidency added.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, asked in an interview with CNN about the likelihood of a Russian invasion, said: "There's no certainty but what we see is a continued military buildup with more and more forces... The warning time is going down and the risk of an attack is going up."
The Pentagon has placed about 8,500 US troops on stand-by for possible deployment to Europe amid Russia's military build-up near Ukraine's border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no public remarks about the Western response. Lavrov has said the West's position leaves little chance for reaching agreement, though he also said Russia doesn't want war.
Russian forces withdrew from towns north of the capital Kyiv last week as it turns its assault to Ukraine's south and east. Ukrainian troops recaptured towns devastated by nearly six weeks of war, including Bucha, where dead civilians lined the streets.
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