Charles Michel gives Putin the time of day – more than 90 minutes on the phone – POLITICO

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EU Council President Charles Michel spent more than 90 minutes on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, an EU official said.

Putin has shown no willingness to end his war against Ukraine, where Russian soldiers have been accused of atrocities against civilians, and Michel’s lengthy phone call risked restoring legitimacy to the Russian leader, who remains largely isolated and ostracized by his global peers days. Michel engaged the Kremlin chief not only in relation to the ongoing military actions in Ukraine, but also on diplomatic issues related to the longstanding conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

With Friday’s phone call, Michel became the first and only G7 leader to speak to Putin since evidence of atrocities was uncovered in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities that were occupied by Russian forces for more than a month before they were forced to to retreat to Belarus, abandoning their efforts to capture the capital, Kyiv, at least temporarily.

Putin’s other calls this week included talks with the Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Last Saturday, the Russian President spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The Kremlin did not immediately release a summary of the phone call with Michel, as it usually does after Putin’s talks with world leaders.

The call followed a trip by Michel to Kyiv on Wednesday, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Michel became the fourth EU head of institution to visit the Ukrainian capital in recent weeks. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola was there on April 1 and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited on April 8 along with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell.

According to the EU official, Michel issued a blunt rebuke of Putin’s war, in which he “in no uncertain terms stressed the unacceptability of the Russian war, detailed the sanctions costs the EU is imposing on Russia for its willful aggression and violation of international law, recalled the… unwavering EU support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity.”

The official said Michel also tried to provide a reality check by emphasizing Russia’s military losses. Michel “equal parts with [Putin] his reading of Russia’s miscalculations and losses, partly to cut through what information vacuum may exist [Putin]’ said the officer.

According to the EU official, Michel called for a humanitarian ceasefire “on the occasion of the upcoming Orthodox Easter,” which is Sunday, and “increased the need for humanitarian access and the operation of humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians to escape from besieged cities, “especially Mariupol ‘ – which Russian forces have almost captured and mostly destroyed in south-eastern Ukraine. The EU official said that at Zelenskyy’s request, Michel urged Putin to negotiate directly with the Ukrainian president.

But there was no sign that Putin would comply with Michel’s requests or heed his admonitions. On Thursday, Putin met with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and the Kremlin released a transcript of the meeting, during which the two men celebrated the “liberation” of Mariupol and claimed they had successfully evacuated 142,711 civilians.

Evidence shows that Russian forces have been bombing civilian residential areas in Mariupol and other cities, and Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russia of blocking the evacuation of civilians while thousands of Ukrainians were forcibly taken into Russian territory.

In what appeared to be a message of support for Michel’s diplomatic efforts, French President Emmanuel Macron, who is in the final days of a high-level re-election campaign, publicly urged European leaders on Friday to keep in touch with Putin. Macron said that such a dialogue was necessary to avoid “a new world war”.

But even Macron, who has had the most extensive diplomatic contact with Putin of any Western leader, has not spoken to the Russian president since evidence of atrocities earlier this month.

And while Macron urged leaders to maintain dialogue on Ukraine, Michel also extended his phone call to speak with Putin on issues related to Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh territory for decades. Michel has claimed a major role for himself in promoting dialogue between the two longtime enemies, including hosting a meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on April 6.

Putin has also met individually with Aliyev and Pashinyan several times in recent weeks and it was not clear that he needed a briefing from Michel on the situation. Charles Michel gives Putin the time of day - more than 90 minutes on the phone - POLITICO

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