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Ukraine crisis: Russia does not want war, Putin says after meeting Scholz

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By Euronews  with AP
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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference following their meeting on Ukraine and security in Moscow, February 15, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference following their meeting on Ukraine and security in Moscow, February 15, 2022.   -   Copyright  MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz have been meeting in Moscow, shortly after Russia said its troops had begun withdrawing from the Ukrainian border -- an announcement greeted with some scepticism in the West.

Putin said that Moscow is ready for talks with the US and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency, although Russia had not received positive answers to its security demands.

The Russian leader insisted he does not want a war around Ukraine, after weeks of tensions fuelled by a massive deployment of Russian troops.

"Do we want (a war) or not? Of course not. That's why we put forward our proposals for a negotiation process," he said during a joint news conference with the German Chancellor.

Speaking after the talks with Scholz, Vladimir Putin said the US and NATO rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.

But the US and NATO have agreed to discuss a range of security measures that Russia had previously proposed.

Scholz said he agrees that diplomatic options are "far from exhausted". The announcement of troops being pulled back is a "good signal", he said, adding that he hopes that "more will follow".

Much remains unclear about Russia's intentions and the announcement on troops being withdrawn from the border area. NATO's chief said there had not been "any signs of de-escalation on the ground".

Earlier, Olaf Scholz laid a wreath at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier, the war memorial dedicated to soldiers killed during World War II.

Before his meeting with Putin, Germany's chancellor said there are "no sensible reasons" for the buildup of more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's borders to the north, south and east, and he urged more dialogue.

Over the past 24 hours, the Kremlin has signalled that it is still possible for diplomacy to head off what Western officials have said could be an imminent invasion of Ukraine. At a meeting with Putin on Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that Russia was ready to keep talking about the security grievances that have led to the crisis.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Tuesday that the meeting with Putin was an opportunity for each side to exchange opinions on "burning issues", according to the Russian TASS news agency.

Scholz's visit to Moscow comes a day after he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv in a show of solidarity.

On Monday, Scholz demanded “clear steps to de-escalate the current tensions" from Russia. And he underlined Western unity in preparing to impose tough sanctions if Russia does encroach further into Ukraine, though once again he didn't specify what exactly whose would be.

Scholz said that “we are in a position any day to take the necessary decisions.”

“No one should doubt the determination and preparedness of the EU, NATO, Germany and the United States, for example, when it comes to what has to be done if there is military aggression against Ukraine,” he added. “We will then act, and there will be very far-reaching measures that would have a significant influence on Russia’s possibilities of economic development.”

US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also agreed during a call on Monday evening that there "remained a crucial window for diplomacy."

Speaking before the Russian troop announcement, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said earlier on Tuesday morning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine “could be imminent,” but there was still time for Putin "to step away from the brink".

Putin's meeting with Scholz came on the day Russian dissident Alexei Navalny went on trial again on fresh fraud charges.

Already serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for a 2014 fraud conviction he has labelled as "political", Navalny faces an additional 10 years in prison if found guilty of alleged fraud by the court in Moscow.