President Joe Biden announced a limited troop deployment to eastern Europe on Friday in an effort to keep pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, even as top Pentagon officials endorsed a renewed diplomatic drive.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on the need for de-escalation as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Western leaders to avoid inciting “panic” about Russia’s significant force buildup on its borders.

In the weeks-long crisis, the worst in decades in the region between Russia and Western Europe, neither Putin nor his Western counterparts had appeared willing to cede ground.

According to a Macron adviser, Putin told Macron over the phone that he had “no offensive plans.” during a call that lasted more than an hour.

Despite the heightened tensions, Biden said in Washington that a modest number of US troops – “not too many” – would be sent soon to boost NATO’s presence in eastern Europe.

The US already has tens of thousands of troops stationed throughout Europe, especially in Western Europe.

Top Pentagon officials advised a focus on diplomacy, despite the fact that Russia now had enough troops and weapons in place to threaten the entire country.

Any such conflict would be “horrific” for all sides, according to US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

“If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties,” Milley warned.

“It would be horrific, it will be terrible,” he remarked.

However, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke beside Milley, maintained that a war in Ukraine might be avoided.

“It is not necessary for conflict to occur. Diplomacy still has time and room “Austin expressed his thoughts.

“Mr Putin can do the right thing as well,” Austin added. “There’s no reason for this to become a fight. De-escalation is an option he has. He has the ability to dispatch his soldiers.”

Putin “expressed no offensive plans” during his meeting with Macron, according to a Macron adviser, and “said he wanted to continue the talks with France and our allies.”

According to the aide, their chat “enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation,” Putin “said very clearly that he did not want confrontation.”

Since October, Russia has stockpiled more than 100,000 combat troops and equipment, as well as support forces, around its Ukrainian border and, more lately, in Belarus, which shares a northern border with Ukraine.

Russian air and sea assets have also been amassed in the region, according to Western sources, presenting a sophisticated threat unlike any seen since the Cold War.

Moscow has asked the West for a slew of security guarantees, including the fact that Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO.

These demands have been the subject of lengthy negotiations, with the West threatening far-reaching consequences if diplomacy fails and Russia attacks.

“We don’t need this panic,” Zelensky said during a press conference with foreign journalists, claiming that he didn’t want to further harm his country’s already-fragile economy.

“Even recognized leaders of governments are sending out signals, stating that war would be declared tomorrow. This is a state of emergency – how much will it cost us?” ‘What did he say?’

During his discussion with Macron, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged for future meetings and negotiations “while a propitious climate for dialogue exists.”

According to the Kremlin, Putin also told Macron that the written responses to his demands from the West this week had fallen short of Russia’s expectations.

According to the Kremlin’s summary of the call, “The US and NATO responses did not take into account Russia’s fundamental concerns including preventing NATO’s expansion,” Putin added.

He went on to say that the West had overlooked the “key question,” that no country should improve its security at the expense of others, and that Russia would “carefully study” the responses before taking further action.

Russia has also asked for a reduction in NATO forces stationed in eastern Europe and former Soviet republics that joined the alliance after the Cold War ended.

Russia stated Friday evening that many EU officials had been added to a list of those barred from entering the country, claiming they were involved for “anti-Russian policies.”

The Putin-Macron phone call came after discussions between Russia and Ukraine in Paris this week, which resulted in a joint declaration pledging to maintain a truce in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Moscow separatists.

They also agreed to meet in Berlin in February for additional discussions.

“The mood for further work of Russia and France in this format was confirmed,” the Kremlin said, citing the meeting’s outcomes in Paris.

In combination with diplomacy, the West has ratcheted up its threats of a harsh retaliation if an invasion occurs.

The Nord Stream 2 project, which aims to increase Russian natural gas supplies to Germany, has been put in jeopardy, according to Washington and Berlin.

According to Milley, war would harm Russia.

“If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it will not be cost-free, in terms of casualties or other significant effects,” he warned.

—AFP