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MOSCOW: Russia played down hopes of a swift breakthrough in the Ukraine crisis on Monday from talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who flew to Moscow expressing hope of easing tension from talks with President Vladimir Putin.

With the White House saying Putin could order an attack on Ukraine within days or weeks, the Kremlin said the situation was still tense and the West was ignoring its security demands.

“In recent days there has been nothing new on the topic of security guarantees for Russia. Our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Instead, he said, statements were “pouring in” from Western capitals about a looming Russian attack on Ukraine.

Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. It denies planning an invasion, but Putin has said Moscow is ready to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if its concerns are not addressed.

French officials have said they think Washington is being alarmist about the likelihood of an invasion soon.

“The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper ahead of his trip to Russia.

“We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to prevent a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and reciprocal gestures of trust,” he said of his hopes for his talks with Putin.

Peskov said Russia was aware of Macron’s aim to ease tensions, but added: “The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in the course of one meeting.”

The United States and NATO have rejected Russian demands to rule out Ukrainian membership of NATO and pull forces out of Eastern Europe. They have offered to discuss arms control and confidence-building measures instead, but Moscow says this does not go far enough.

Putin was due to meet Macron at around 1400 GMT for talks followed by a working dinner and a joint news conference.

DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE

In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian concerns about potential NATO aggression were “fundamentally unfounded as NATO is a defensive alliance at its heart”. He said Britain wanted to work with Moscow to provide it with reassurance on that point

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