U.S. President Joe Biden is maintaining pressure on Russian leader Vladimir Putin over Ukraine after announcing a small troop deployment to eastern Europe even as top Pentagon officials backed a renewed push for diplomacy.
As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Western leaders to avoid stirring “panic” over the massive Russian troop buildup on his country’s borders, Mr. Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on the need for de-escalation.
Not ready to concede
Neither Mr. Putin nor his European and American counterparts had until now appeared ready to give ground in the weeks-long crisis, the worst in decades between Russia and the West.
But according to a Macron aide, Mr. Putin told the French leader in a call lasting more than an hour that he had “no offensive plans.”
In Washington, Mr. Biden nevertheless said on Friday he would soon send a small number of U.S. troops to bolster the NATO presence in eastern Europe as tensions remain heightened.
The United States already has tens of thousands of troops stationed across mostly Western Europe.
At the Pentagon, top officials urged a focus on diplomacy while saying that Russia now had enough troops and equipment in place to threaten the whole of Ukraine.
Any such conflict, warned the top U.S. general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, would be “horrific” for both sides.
“If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties,” Mr. Milley said.
‘Still time for diplomacy’
But speaking alongside Mr. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said there “is still time and space for diplomacy.
“Mr Putin can do the right thing as well,” Mr. Austin said. “There is no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict.”
During his talks with Mr. Macron, Mr. Putin “expressed no offensive plans and said he wanted to continue the talks with France and our allies,” the aide to the French president said.
Their conversation “enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation,” the aide told journalists.
Mr. Putin “said very clearly that he did not want confrontation.”