Putin warns over West's arms supplies

  Russian leader tells EU pair weapons worsen situation amid calls for truce

  French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a cease-fire in the Ukraine conflict and hold direct talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

  But, in a three-way phone call on Saturday, Putin warned that the West's increasing supplies of arms to Ukraine would further destabilize the situation.

  The call, the first connecting the three leaders since March 12, follows Putin's separate calls with Macron, on May 3, and with Scholz, on May 13.

  The Elysee Palace said in a statement after the call that the French and German leaders requested the release of some 2,500 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant who had become prisoners following their capture by Russian forces at a key stronghold of resistance in the southern city of Mariupol.

  The German chancellor's office said that during the 80-minute phone call, Scholz and Macron urged Putin to have “serious direct negotiations with Zelensky and find a diplomatic solution to the conflict”.

  They also “insisted on an immediate cease-fire and a withdrawal of Russian troops”, according to the chancellor's office.

  The Kremlin said on Saturday that Putin told the two European leaders about Russian efforts to reestablish a peaceful life in Donbas. Putin also emphasized Moscow's willingness to continue negotiations with Kyiv and warned Macron and Scholz that Western arms deliveries to Ukraine were “dangerous” and risked “further destabilization of the situation”, according to the Kremlin.

  The administration of US President Joe Biden is weighing up whether to send advanced, long-range rocket systems that Ukraine has requested for months.

  On the issue of global food shortages, Putin said the problems with supply had been caused by anti-Russian sanctions and other mistakes made by the West. But he assured that Moscow “is ready to help find options for unhampered exports of grain, including exports of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports”, according to the Kremlin.

  “Increasing supplies of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products will also help reduce tension on the global food market, which, of course, would require removing the relevant restrictions,” said Putin, referring to the lifting of Western sanctions imposed since Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb 24.

  Major producers

  Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply. Russia is the world's largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and the No 2 exporter of phosphorous and potassium fertilizer. Belarus, which is also under Western sanctions, is another major fertilizer producer.

  The three-way talks on Saturday came shortly before Macron and Scholz join other European Union leaders in a summit in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday, when the EU hopes to announce its sixth round of sanctions on Russia, an issue that was still being discussed over the weekend due to the lack of consensus.

  Hungary has led the charge in opposing the latest proposals, which include an embargo on Russian oil. It argues that such a measure will devastate its economy, a concern shared by some other member states.

  But unnamed EU diplomats told the Politico website that a tentative compromise is being hashed out among EU member states in order to win support from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

  The compromise would water down the original proposal for a complete ban on all Russian oil imports to the EU and instead focus only on supplies delivered to the bloc by ship, leaving Hungary and some other countries, including Germany and Slovakia, to continue to buy Russian crude pumped through pipelines.

  Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whose country is not an EU member, said on Sunday he had agreed on a three-year gas supply contract in a phone call with Putin.

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