President Joe Biden could hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a 'last-ditch effort' to avoid war in Ukraine, the White House has confirmed.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed late on Sunday, February 20, that Biden had agreed 'in principle' to the meeting after French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to successfully convince Putin to himself agree to a summit following an hour-long phone call late last night.
Psaki noted that the summit would only take place if Russia did not invade Ukraine. US officials have warned that their intelligence suggests Putin has already given the go ahead for an invasion, with more than 150,000 Russian troops currently deployed to the Ukraine border.
'We are always ready for diplomacy,' Psaki said in a statement, before cautioning that 'we are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.'
News of the summit comes as Macron on Sunday held a series of back-to-back calls with Putin, Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in what French officials called a 'last-ditch effort to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine'.
Western allies have repeatedly called on Putin to engage in diplomatic efforts as tensions continue to rise in the region, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken telling CNN on Sunday that 'President Biden is prepared to engage President Putin at any time, in any format, if that can help prevent a war'.
The two leaders most recently spoke by phone a week ago, with their last face-to-face meeting having taken place in June last year.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there were 'no concrete plans' for a meeting just yet.
'A substantive understanding has been reached that it is necessary to continue dialogue at the ministers' level. It is too early to talk about concrete plans for organising summits,' Peskov told CNN, adding:' Of course, we do not rule out that, if necessary, the presidents of Russia and US can make a decision at any time to have contacts, by telephone or in person. It will be their decision.'
The White House has confirmed Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the possible summit at a meeting later this week, with Blinken telling the State of the Union programme, 'My job as a diplomat is to leave absolutely no stone unturned and see if we can prevent war, and if there's anything I can do to do that, I'm going to do it.'
However a Kremlin spokesperson said that while it was important to 'continue the dialogue', it was 'premature to talk about any specific plans for organising any kind of summits', per AFP.
The news comes after Biden told the American people in an address on Friday, February 18, he was 'convinced' Putin had ordered his military to proceed with an invasion in the 'coming days'.
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