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In rare call, Russian defense minister warns French counterpart against sending troops to Ukraine

MOSCOW — (AP) — Russia's defense minister warned his French counterpart against deploying troops to Ukraine in a rare phone call Wednesday and noted that Moscow is ready to take part in talks to end the conflict.

Sergei Shoigu told French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu that if Paris follows up on its statements about the possibility of sending a French military contingent to Ukraine, "it will create problems for France itself," according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry. It didn't elaborate.

The conversation followed French President Emmanuel Macron's comments in February, in which he said that the possibility of Western troops being sent to Ukraine could not be ruled out.

The call marked the first such contact between Russian and French defense ministers since October 2022.

Shoigu noted Moscow's “readiness for dialogue on Ukraine," emphasizing that a planned round of peace talks in Geneva would be “senseless” without Russia's involvement. He added that possible future negotiations could be based on a draft document, which was discussed during Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul in March 2022.

Media reports have said that the draft negotiated in Istanbul weeks after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine envisaged that Ukraine will abandon its bid to join NATO and remain neutral. No final deal was reached and the talks collapsed quickly after.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said in its readout of Wednesday's call that Lecornu offered condolences over the March 22 attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed 145 in the deadliest assault on Russian soil in decades.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials have sought to link Ukraine and the West to the attack despite Kyiv's fierce denial, a claim of responsibility issued by an affiliate of Islamic State group and an advance warning that the U.S. had issued to Moscow about imminent attack.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that during the call Lecornu tried to persuade Shoigu that Ukraine and its Western allies had no relation to the concert hall raid, but Shoigu insisted that Moscow has “information about Ukrainian trace in organizing the terror attack.”

“The Kyiv regime does nothing without approval of its Western handlers,” the ministry quoted Shoigu as telling Lecornu.“We hope that the French special services weren't involved in it.”

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