(NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin have tentatively agreed to meet in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to put off the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine as heavy shelling continued Monday in an eastern Ukraine conflict that is feared will spark the Russian offensive.
The prospective meeting offers new hope of averting a Russian invasion that U.S. officials said could begin any moment, with an estimated 190,000 Russian troops amassed near Ukraine.
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton told NewsNation’s Adrienne Bankert that he believes a diplomatic resolution is still possible despite weeks of tensions.
“I believe that we can come to a resolution here. However, Putin holds all the cards here,” Newton said on “Morning in America.” “He has the world stage, in effect on the deployment diplomatic side, he’s on the offensive, and we seem to be somewhat on the defensive side. And that’s not a particularly good position, but that’s where we are.”
French President Emmanuel Macron is brokering a possible meeting between Biden and Putin.
Macron’s office said both leaders had “accepted the principle of such a summit,” to be followed by a broader summit meeting also involving other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe.” It added that the meetings “can only be held on the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine.”
Adding to fears of an imminent attack, Russia and its ally Belarus announced Sunday that they were extending massive war games on Belarusian territory that offers a convenient bridgehead for an attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, located less than 50 miles south of the border with Belarus.
Starting Thursday, shelling also spiked along the tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, where over 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in 2014 shortly after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Newton says Putin is looking to increase the power of the former Soviet Union.
“Putin wants to enlarge Russia or the old former Soviet Union,” Putin said. “By really grabbing the second largest landmass, in terms of European terrority, being Ukraine would be something that would from his historical perspective, and his geopolitical perspective would enlarge the orbit of Russia. “
Amid potential diplomatic progress, an American translator Taras Petro is choosing to stay in Ukraine despite warnings that Americans should leave. He arrived in Ukraine about a month ago for work from Detroit. Petro was supposed to go back to the U.S. but he told “Morning in America” he is staying behind for work and to be with family.
“This invasion started in 2014, now in seven or eight years, Putin wants to go further. He’s like that cat that you let in the house. He goes under the table, and then he wants to take over the top of the table,” Petro said.
Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It also urges the alliance to halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.
Russian officials have shrugged off Western calls to deescalate by pulling back troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct drills wherever it likes on its territory. Last week, Western officials dismissed Russian statements about some of the troops returning to their bases, saying that Moscow was actually beefing up its forces around Ukraine.
“We hear and see active military preparation with the Ukrainian army and the armed forces, they are actively recruiting young men to be ready,” Petro said. “If needed they can fight to defend the breadbasket of Europe because Ukraine, and its soil is indeed the breadbasket of Europe.”