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French President Emmanuel Macron attends an informal meeting of European space ministers, in Toulouse, southwestern France, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron attends an informal meeting of European space ministers, in Toulouse, southwestern France, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP) (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP)

PARIS — Russian President Vladimir Putin called French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, in what appeared to have been a markedly more tense exchange than previous conversations between the two leaders.

The 90-minute call failed to deliver a diplomatic breakthrough, and a senior French official said it left Macron convinced that “the worst is yet to come” and that Putin aims to take control of all of Ukraine.

“Your country will pay dearly because it will end up as an isolated country, weakened and under sanctions for a very long time,” Macron told Putin, according to a French official, who added that Macron “called on Vladimir Putin to not lie to himself.”

The conversation, which the French presidency said was initiated by Putin, came as Ukrainian officials were set to hold talks with a Russian delegation, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials. But based on the two leaders’ exchange, there was no indication on Thursday that a diplomatic solution could be in sight, according to French officials.

The Kremlin’s news service cited Putin as having told Macron that the objectives “of the special military operation” — the term the Kremlin has used to refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — “will be fulfilled in any case.”

“Attempts to gain time by dragging negotiations will only lead to additional requirements for Kyiv in our negotiating position,” Putin told Macron, according to the readout.

A senior French official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because it is French government practice, said Putin’s remarks reflected a “determination to continue the military operation, and to continue it to the end.”

According to the Kremlin’s news service, Putin also took issue with an address to the nation Macron had given on Wednesday evening, in which he had condemned Putin’s “brutal attack” on Ukraine and said “Putin chose the war.”

In his speech, Macron had also said Putin’s claims that he wants to “denazify” Ukraine are “a lie” and “an insult to the history of Russia and Ukraine, to the memory of our elders who fought side by side against Nazism.”

Responding directly to those comments on Thursday, the Kremlin news service said Putin disagreed “with many points” raised in Macron’s address, and he denied that Russia was behind the shelling of major Ukrainian cities — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Macron is the only Western leader who has been in consistent public contact with Putin since the invasion of Ukraine, in an effort the French presidency has described as an attempt to keep the doors to meaningful negotiations open. Putin and Macron also spoke on Monday, and last Thursday.

Before the invasion, Macron had led Western efforts to prevent an escalation of the crisis through diplomatic channels, traveling to Moscow last month to keep Putin engaged. Since mid-December, the two leaders have spoken over a dozen times, according to the French presidency. Macron has also been in frequent contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — the last time on Thursday, following his call with Putin.

The Washington Post’s Robyn Dixon contributed to this report from Moscow and Claire Parker contributed from Washington.


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