French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for a “de-escalation” in the Ukraine crisis during a call on Friday, with the Russian leader saying he had “no offensive plans”, an aide to Macron said.

The two leaders spoke for more than an hour on Friday morning during a call that was described by the French side as “serious and respectful” which highlighted “fundamental differences” but also a “joint desire” to keep talking.

The conversation “enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation,” the aide said during a briefing with journalists.

France hosted more than eight hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Paris on Wednesday which were seen as a test of whether Putin wanted to lower tensions, having massed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.

“President Putin expressed no offensive plans and said he wanted to continue the talks with France and our allies,” the French official said on Friday, adding that the Russian leader “said very clearly that he did not want confrontation.”

Macron said earlier this week that Russia was behaving as a “power of disequilibrium” in the region but had also made clear he wanted to speak with Putin, whom he invited to France for talks during his summer holidays in 2019.

His relatively conciliatory tone has contrasted with the more strident rhetoric about the probability of a Russian invasion from France’s NATO allies the UK and the United States.

“Now the ball is in Putin’s court,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio Friday before the phone call between the leaders.

“Does he want to be the one to say that Russia is a power of disequilibrium, or is he ready to show de-escalation?” he asked.

“It’s up to Vladimir Putin to say if he wants confrontation or consultation. We are ready for consultation. But it still takes two to do it,” he said.

Le Drian said that there was “of course” still the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, warning that such a move would have “massive repercussions” for Moscow.


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