Bid to defuse Ukraine tensions intensifies as 'positive' signs emerge
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday ramped up efforts to stop Russia from invading Ukraine, as Kyiv and Moscow said they saw 'positive signals' toward resolving the crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron, returning from separate talks earlier this week with Putin and Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelensky, had said on Tuesday he glimpsed a way forward towards easing tensions.
The Russian leader had told him that Moscow "would not be the source of an escalation", the French president said.
While 100,000 Russian soldiers are still massed near Ukraine's borders, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said "diplomacy is continuing to lower tensions".
"The way the greater European community responds to this crisis will determine the future of European security and of each individual European state," he told reporters.
More upbeat noises also emerged from Moscow, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that "there were positive signals that a solution to Ukraine could be based only on fulfilling the Minsk agreements".
German leader Scholz, who had come under fire at home over his dithering response to the Ukraine crisis, is accelerating his diplomatic pace to reassure allies that Germany would not be the weakest link among allies in standing up to Russia.
Less than 24 hours after his trip in Washington to underline his resolve to US President Joe Biden, Scholz late Tuesday stood alongside Polish leader Andrzej Duda and Macron to declare the Europeans' unity in their goal of averting war on the continent.
The German leader will speak with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen before dinner with EU chief Charles Michel later Wednesday, and on Thursday, a huddle is planned with leaders of Baltic nations.
Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel in December, has been struggling to emerge from behind the veteran leader's shadows.
His quiet demeanor has at times been drowned out by noisier voices questioning Western allies' course, including from within his own Social Democrats, leading critics to question Germany's resolve in the crisis.
Scholz will travel to Kyiv and then Moscow next week, where he will have his first face-to-face meeting with Putin.
The Russian leader, who has demanded sweeping security guarantees from NATO and the United States, said after his talks with Macron that Moscow would "do everything to find compromises that suit everyone".
He said several proposals put forward by Macron could "form a basis for further steps" on easing the crisis over Ukraine, but did not give any details.
At the same time as sending its military hardware to Ukraine's borders, Putin has issued demands the West says are unacceptable, including barring Ukraine from joining NATO and rolling back alliance forces in eastern Europe.
The French presidency said Macron's counterproposals included an engagement from both sides not to take any new military action, the launching of strategic dialogue, and efforts to revive the peace process for Ukraine's conflict.
It also said an agreement would ensure the withdrawal of some 30,000 Russian soldiers from Belarus at the end of joint military exercises later this month.
The Kremlin insisted it never intended to leave the troops permanently on Belarusian territory.
The West faces a tough task trying to convince a wary Zelensky to accept any compromises.
Kyiv has laid out three "red lines," it says it will not cross to find a solution -- no compromise over Ukraine's territorial integrity, no direct talks with the separatists and no interference in its foreign policy.