Leaders of Russia, France, Germany discuss global crises

MOSCOW (AP) — The leaders of Russia, France and Germany met by conference call Tuesday and discussed coronavirus vaccines, the Iranian nuclear standoff and the conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Libya and Syria.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin also responded to questions about jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in their “frank and business-like” video call.

In its readout of the call, the Kremlin noted that the three leaders talked about prospects for the registration of the Russia-designed Sputnik V vaccines in the European Union and the possibility of its shipments and joint production in EU nations.

The European Medicines Agency started a rolling review of Sputnik V earlier this month. Russia has been actively marketing Sputnik V abroad despite a slow pace of its rollout at home, in what some in the EU saw as an attempt to score geopolitical points.

The offices of Merkel and Macron said in their readouts of the call that the three leaders discussed opportunities for cooperation in the vaccine sector in view of the EMA’s evaluation of Sputnik V, which is carried out according to the same standards that apply to other vaccines.

While talking about the situation in eastern Ukraine, the three leaders emphasized that a 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany has no alternative, the Kremlin said.

It noted that Putin emphasized the need for Ukraine to honor its obligations to provide special status to the rebel regions as stipulated in the 2015 deal. Ukraine has pushed for amending the agreement, but Russia has staunchly rejected the push.

The fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and has left more than 14,000 dead.

In its readout of the call, Macron’s office emphasized the need for Russia to act resolutely to secure a cease-fire in the east that has been routinely violated.

The Kremlin’s statement said the three leaders voiced hope that Libya’s transitional authorities will help advance an inclusive political process in the war-stricken country.

All three also reiterated support for the Iranian nuclear deal and touched on the disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria, according to their respective statements.

In an exchange on Belarus, which has been engulfed by protests ever since the August re-election of the ex-Soviet nation’s authoritarian president that the opposition rejected as fraudulent, Merkel and Macron spoke in favor of an inclusive national dialogue, according to their offices. In a statement reflecting Moscow’s staunch support for the Belarusian leader, the Kremlin said that Putin warned against foreign meddling in the country’s affairs.

Putin also said Russia was open for normalization of ties between Russia and the European Union, which have been strained recently over the poisoning and the jailing of Navalny. Navalny, Putin’s most outspoken opponent, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Last month, Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. He rejected the charges as the Kremlin’s political vendetta. Navalny said in a letter from prison that he was suffering from back and leg pains and complained about prison officials’ failure to provide proper medical assistance.

Russian officials have rejected demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters.

In Tuesday’s call, Merkel and Macron emphasized the need for Russia to respect Navalny’s rights in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and protect his health, according to Macron’s office.

The Kremlin said only that Putin offered an “objective explanation” in response to questions about Navalny posed by Merkel and Macron and emphasized Moscow’s readiness to “restore normal unpoliticized interaction with the EU if it shows interest in that.”