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Diplomatic talks continue over Ukraine. Will there be a Biden-Putin Summit?


What would a meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin actually accomplish? The White House says President Biden is willing to meet with Putin in principle, as long as Russia doesn't move militarily on Ukraine. Later, we'll talk through that perspective meeting with a member of Congress who was at the Munich Security Conference this weekend.

First, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Kyiv. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Frank, break it down for us. Is this Biden-Putin summit going to happen?

LANGFITT: It's not quite clear. You know, French President Emmanuel Macron was working the phones not only with the U.S. and Russia but also with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, to try to set up a meeting to broker a cease-fire out in eastern Ukraine. And that's where Ukrainian government says the Russian-backed separatists have been - dramatically increased shelling in the last four days. And the plan, if it happens, would be for Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Russian - Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, to meet on Thursday to work out the details. But just as A was saying, you know, the Kremlin spokesman came out this morning saying, it's premature to prepare for a summit, and the dialogue should continue between foreign ministries and political advisers.

FADEL: So how are reports of this possible meeting being received in Ukraine?

LANGFITT: Well, anything that doesn't involve an invasion is always welcome here.

FADEL: Right.

LANGFITT: So as Ukrainians in social media - I'd say it was qualified relief. But I would also say, for the moment, because we're sort of on these 24-hour cycles. They're also wondering, hey, if there are these talks, why aren't we going to be a part of these talks? And you've got to understand, from Ukraine's point of view, you know, they're always concerned that these bigger powers will make some decision that affects them and kind of cut them out. So if there were a summit to actually happen, there also would be plans for a much wider meeting, which - you know, involving the future of security in Europe so that the Ukrainians would not feel left out.

FADEL: So since Thursday, there's been increased violence in the area known as the Donbas in the country's far east, including two Russian separatist enclaves. What's going on there now?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Ukrainian government says forces in the area that's occupied by these Russian-backed separatists continued heavy artillery today. And analysts view this violence, Leila, in a number of different ways. One, it could be a prelude to a possible attack, but it's also a way to continue to raise pressure on Ukraine and the West for negotiations. And I guess want to point out here that Russia has said it does not plan to invade, even though it has enormous number of forces along the Ukrainian border. And most Ukrainians don't think Russia will invade, either. They think it would be catastrophic not only for Ukraine but also for President Putin and Russia. And in its stead, they see this kind of pressure in what's happening in the east and all of these troops as a way to continue to damage the country and pressure to align with Russia instead of the West, which - the West is really where most people here see their nation's future.

FADEL: I've got to ask you before I let you go about this reported kill list. The U.S. wrote to the U.N. human rights chief in Geneva, warning that the Russians have created a hit list of people in Ukraine to detain or kill if they invade. What more do we know about that?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I have the letter from the United States right here. It reads, quote, "We have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation." I should note, no list has leaked. We haven't seen a list. The U.S. has provided no evidence that one exists. And the Kremlin is calling this a absolute lie. That said, you know, from a very credible Western source here, I heard this more than a week ago, and so it's certainly something that's been circulating around here in Ukraine.

FADEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Kyiv. Thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.