Scholz, Macron ask Putin for ‘serious direct negotiations’ with Zelensky

BERLIN (AFP, REUTERS) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday (May 28) asked Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hold “direct serious negotiations” with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

During an 80-minute conversation with the Russian President, the two European Union leaders “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops”, the German chancellor’s office said.

Macron and Scholz urged Putin to have “serious direct negotiations with the Ukrainian president and (find) a diplomatic solution to the conflict”.

The Kremlin cited Putin as saying Russia was willing to resume talks with Ukraine.

“Special attention was paid to the status of the negotiations that are frozen because of Kyiv. President Vladimir Putin confirmed the Russian side’s openness to resume dialogue,” it said.

The two EU leaders also asked Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters who were holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and who were taken prisoner by Russia.

“The President of the Republic and the German Chancellor asked for the release of some 2,500 defenders of Azovstal made prisoners of war by the Russian forces,” the French presidency said after the telephone call among the three leaders.

Putin warned the leaders of Germany and France against ramping up arms supplies to Ukraine, saying they could further destabilise the situation in the pro-Western country.

Putin told Macron and Scholz that the continuing arms supplies to Ukraine were “dangerous”, warning “of the risks of further destabilisation of the situation and aggravation of the humanitarian crisis”, the Kremlin said.

On a more positive note, Putin told the EU leaders that Russia was willing to discuss ways to make it possible for Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea ports.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertilizer exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

“For its part, Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports,” the Kremlin said.

It said Putin also informed Macron and Scholz that Russia was ready to increase its export of fertilizers and agricultural products if sanctions against it were lifted – a demand he has raised in conversations with the Italian and Austrian leaders in recent days.

Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of weaponising the food crisis created by its invasion of Ukraine, which has sent the prices of grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Russia has blamed the situation on Western sanctions against it, and on the mining of Ukrainian ports.