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German Chancellor meets Putin as tone of crisis shifts.

As the Kremlin signals an openness to further diplomacy and Ukraine hints at concessions to avert war, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, becoming the latest Western leader to engage in shuttle diplomacy to defuse the crisis in Eastern Europe.

In opening remarks carried by Russian state media, Mr Putin told Mr Scholz that an “important part” of their meeting would focus on Ukraine and other European security issues. The meeting lasted about three hours, according to Russian state media, and a joint press conference by the two leaders was scheduled later.

The German leader’s one-day trip to Moscow, a day after his visit to Kyiv, comes as the Russian Defense Ministry said some Russian troops massed around Ukraine were returning to their bases, a tentative sign that the threat of an imminent Russian invasion was diminishing.

Moscow’s ongoing talks with the West were a sign that the Kremlin still had room to avoid military action and achieve key objectives. The prospect of such a scenario has been heightened in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has left open the possibility of abandoning his country’s ambition to join the NATO alliance – a move that would help to respond to one of Mr Putin’s main demands.

Mr Scholz’s visit follows similar swings in recent weeks by French President Emmanuel Macron and a string of foreign ministers, all trying to avoid an armed clash as Mr Putin amassed ground and naval forces on three sides of Ukraine.

Mr Scholz, who took office two months ago, has been slow to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, but has met with other Western leaders almost all days over the past week. His trip to Moscow comes a day after his trip to Kiev, where he assured Mr Zelensky of Germany’s support in the face of Russian aggression, although short of offering arms.

At a joint press conference on Monday, Mr. Scholz and Mr. Zelensky hinted at the possibility of concessions related to Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO, which are enshrined in the country’s constitution, but which, according to Western officials, cannot be realized in the foreseeable future. .

Mr. Scholz reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the principle of letting each country choose its own alliances. But he also said the issue was not currently on the table and called for flexibility to defuse the current crisis.

“There are no spheres of interest in Europe that other states can decide on,” Scholz said. “But again, we have to look at the reality and it is: There is a conflict that we want to defuse. This is the task of the hour.

Mr Scholz said Germany was prepared for “very extensive and effective sanctions” if Russia invaded. But as in the past, he didn’t say what that would be – and in particular didn’t say whether he would shut down Nord Stream 2, the near-complete pipeline project to deliver Russian natural gas to Europe. Germany.

Analysts note that Mr. Scholz has little substance to offer Mr. Putin, but the meeting could reveal whether he is ready to take a tougher line against Moscow.

“What people are still waiting to hear is the phrase: If Putin invades, Nord Stream 2 is dead,” said Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European history at Oxford University. “It’s important because it’s the phrase that everyone wants to hear. And this is the only way to resolve the ambiguity of the German position.

nytimes Eur

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