Latest Ukraine updates: Macron, Putin agree to work for ceasefire

Russia-Ukraine news from February 20: Macron and Putin agree on necessity of a diplomatic solution to ongoing crisis.

Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin
In a phone call that lasted 105 minutes, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to work on a diplomatic solution to the crisis [Reuters]

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to work for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, with the foreign ministers of the two countries set to meet in the coming days.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is willing to meet Putin to find out “what the Russian president wants” and seek a “peaceful settlement” amid growing concern over a possible imminent invasion.

Violence in eastern Ukraine has spiked in recent days. Fighting has broken out sporadically for years along the line separating Ukrainian forces from Russian-backed rebels, but the recent shelling and bombing spike could set off a full-scale war.

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for February 20.

Hundreds rally for Ukraine at Madrid protest

About 500 people, many of them Ukrainians, rallied in central Madrid against the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Participants waved blue and yellow Ukranian flags or wore them draped over their backs in the Plaza de Espana square.

“We are all worried, we are fearful because don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Ruslan Sendzyuk, a Ukrainian living in Madrid, told AFPTV at the protest.

Ukraine showdown casts shadow over Qatar gas summit

Experts from the 11-member Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) began meetings in Doha to discuss how to meet skyrocketing world demand as tensions surrounding Ukraine stoke fears in Europe about gas supplies from Russia.

With Europe’s fears growing that Russia will invade Ukraine, natural gas prices are at close to double the level they traded at in late 2020.

European nations are frantically seeking alternative supplies to Russian gas, which feeds 40 percent of the European market. They have looked in large part to Australia and the United States, which are not forum members, and Qatar, but most producing nations say they have little spare capacity to fill the gap.

OSCE to hold Ukraine security talks Monday

The OSCE will hold an extraordinary meeting of permanent representatives on Monday to find ways to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, the Polish chairmanship of the European security body said.

OSCE monitors have reported hundreds of artillery and mortar attacks in recent days, in a conflict that has rumbled since 2014 and killed more than 14,000 people.

Ukraine had requested a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna to discuss the “rapidly deteriorating security situation”, Poland’s OSCE representative Adam Halacinski said on Twitter.

Hundreds rally for Ukraine at Warsaw demo

Hundreds of people rallied in the Old Town in central Warsaw in solidarity with neighbouring Ukraine against what they called “Russian aggression”.

Participants waved Ukrainian, Polish and EU flags as well as the standard used by the Belarusian opposition.

“We Are With Ukraine”, read one placard held up at the demonstration. Another said: “Hands Off Ukraine”.

Organisers said in a statement that the protest was “to express our opposition to yet another possible Russian aggression against Ukraine”.

Protesters wave Ukrainian and Polish flags during a demonstration for peace
Protesters wave Ukrainian and Polish flags during a demonstration for peace in Ukraine, in Warsaw, Poland, on February 20, 2022 [Wojtek Radwanksi/AFP]

Russian, French foreign ministers to speak Monday

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will speak with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said.

“As previously agreed, Sergei Lavrov was ready to have a telephone conversation with his French counterpart today. Le Drian was unable to today. So a telephone call is scheduled for Monday,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was cited as saying by agencies.

Putin and Macron discuss need to step up Ukraine diplomacy

Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin agreed on the need to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.

In a phone conversation lasting 105 minutes, they also agreed on “the need to favour a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis and to do everything to achieve one”, the Elysee said, adding that French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov would meet “in the coming days”.

Macron and Putin also agreed that talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany should resume to implement the so-called Minsk protocol – which in 2014 had already called for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin also reiterated the need for the United States and NATO to take Russian demands for security guarantees seriously.

Blinken says diplomacy will be used until last minute

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would use every opportunity until the last minute to see if diplomacy would dissuade Moscow from going ahead.

“Everything we are seeing suggests that this is dead serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion. We will do everything we can to try to prevent it before it happens,” Blinken said on CNN’s State of the Union show, adding that the West was equally prepared if Moscow invades.

“Until the tanks are actually rolling, and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” he said.

Putin blames Kyiv for escalation, but says diplomacy should ‘intensify’

In a call with French leader Macron, Putin has laid the blame on Kyiv for a military escalation in east Ukraine.

Putin “noted that the cause of the escalation is provocations carried out by the Ukrainian security forces,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call, which added however that the two leaders “believe it is important to intensify efforts to find solutions through diplomatic means”.

Putin also repeated a call for “the United States and NATO to take Russian demands for security guarantees seriously”.

Belarus sovereignty threatened by Russian troops: opposition

Exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the presence of Russian troops for extended military drills endangered her country’s sovereignty.

“The presence of Russian troops on our territory violates our constitution, international law, endangers the security of each Belarusian and the entire region,” her office said in a statement.

“We demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory,” the statement continued, adding that her team would seek to have the deployment raised within the UN security council.

Ukraine president calls for immediate ceasefire

Zelenskyy has called for an immediate ceasefire in the eastern part of the country.

He also said Ukraine supports peace talks within the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), where Ukraine participates along with Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).

“We stand for intensifying the peace process. We support the immediate convening of the TCG and the immediate introduction of a regime of silence,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

Belarus, Russia continue military drills north of Ukraine

Russian military exercises in Belarus – originally scheduled to end on Sunday – will continue, Minsk has announced, pointing to an increase in tensions along the Ukraine border.

Belarusian defence minister Viktor Khrenin said Russian troops will not withdraw from the country because of rising tensions in Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region and “in connection with the increase in military activity near the external borders” of Russia and Belarus.

The move further intensifies pressure on Ukraine as Western leaders and NATO warn of an imminent full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

It is provocative of the West to predict Ukraine invasion dates: Kremlin

Western countries repeatedly predicting dates for a Russian invasion of Ukraine is provocative and can have adverse consequences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Putin takes no notice of such statements, Peskov said, adding that Moscow appeals to Western partners’ reason.

Talks between Macron and Putin on Ukraine begin

A telephone conversation between Macron and Putin about the situation in Ukraine got under way on Sunday as planned, the French presidential office said.

The call, described as part of a last-ditch effort to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine, began at 11am (10:00 GMT).

Netherlands moves Ukraine embassy staff to Lviv

The foreign ministry of the Netherlands said it has decided to move its embassy functions in Ukraine from Kyiv to Lviv temporarily because of safety considerations.

Many countries have moved diplomats to Lviv in the far west of Ukraine, with NATO moving its Ukraine staff there on Saturday.

The Netherlands government last week urged Dutch citizens to leave Ukraine.

Civilians in eastern Ukraine live amid destruction and shelling

Residents in Marinka have lived through eight years of conflict. Most of the city’s buildings are riddled with bullet marks, and intact roofs or windows are rare.

As tensions with Russia spiralled, the attacks have become the most intense in years, hitting residential areas – even a kindergarten.

The city of 10,000 is right on the front line, with separatist territory just metres away.

Read the story here.

West ‘can’t keep offering olive branch’ while Russia masses troops: EU chief

Western allies cannot keep offering an olive branch while Russia continues to dial up tensions along the Ukrainian border, European Council President Charles Michel said.

“The big question remains: does the Kremlin want dialogue?” Michel asked at the Munich Security Conference.

“We cannot forever offer an olive branch while Russia conducts missile tests and continues to amass troops,” he added.

Russian companies could be cut off financially if Ukraine is invaded: UK

The United States and the UK could cut off Russian companies’ access to US dollars and British pounds if the Kremlin orders an invasion of Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

Johnson said sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion would go much further than previously suggested in public.

The UK and the United States would stop Russian companies “trading in pounds and dollars”, he said, in a move that would “hit very very hard” with its effect, the BBC reported.

However, Johnson said Putin might not be thinking logically and the threat of sanctions may not be enough to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine temporarily closes checkpoint in Donbas due to shelling

Ukraine suspended operations at one of the seven checkpoints to territory in the eastern Donbas region due to heavy shelling, the Ukrainian military said.

Considering “the escalation of the situation… and the inability to guarantee the safety of the civilian population” using the checkpoint, the command was suspending its use from 8am (0600 GMT) on Sunday “for the period of the threat”, the military said.

Incidents of shelling across the line dividing government forces and separatists increased sharply last week, in what the Ukrainian government called a provocation.

Putin oversees nuclear drills

Russia’s strategic nuclear forces held exercises overseen by Putin on Saturday and successfully test-launched hypersonic and cruise missiles at sea, the Kremlin said.

Putin observed the exercises on screens with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko from a “situation centre”.

Zelenskyy calls on Putin to meet

Zelenskyy has called on Putin to meet him and seek resolution to the crisis.

“I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting,” Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference, where he also met with US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday.

“Ukraine will continue to follow only the diplomatic path for the sake of a peaceful settlement.”

Macron, Putin to talk as tension grows

French President Emmanuel Macron will call Putin on Sunday to try to avert what Western powers predict will be an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

Over the weekend, civilians were evacuated from increasingly barraged front-line regions where Kyiv said on Saturday two of its soldiers had died in an attack, the first fatalities in the conflict in more than a month.

Read more here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies