French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to cool tensions with Ukraine, and expressed “grave concern” about the health of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
In a telephone conversation with Putin, the French president insisted on the need to respect Navalny’s “fundamental rights,” according to Macron’s office. Russian authorities on Monday ordered Navalny’s offices to halt their activities, as part of a legal battle amid a sweeping crackdown on Putin’s chief domestic foe.
Macron also urged Putin to “commit in good faith and in a sustainable way toward reducing tensions with Ukraine,” notably by withdrawing troops and heavy weaponry from the Ukrainian border. A Russian troop buildup in recent weeks has fueled fears of renewed hostilities and worried Ukraine and the West.
The Russian defense ministry has said it’s started to withdraw the troops to their permanent bases, after completing sweeping maneuvers.
Macron sought to reach out to Putin earlier in his presidency and hosted Ukrainian peace talks in 2019 with Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But tensions have risen again recently between Russia and Europe.
Macron also expressed his support Monday for fellow European countries whose diplomats have been targeted by Russia in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions, according to Macron’s office.