French President Emmanuel Macron told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin he hoped talks in Moscow could lead to an easing of tensions over Ukraine.
"This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is toward a de-escalation," Macron said at the start of the meeting.
He added that he hoped to "avoid a war" and "build elements of confidence, stability and visibility for everyone."
Following their talks, Macron told reporters that he had made proposals of "concrete security guarantees" to Putin.
The French presidency said the proposals include an engagement from both sides to to take any new military action, the launching of a new strategic dialogue and efforts to revive the peace process in the Donbass.
"President Putin assured me of his readiness to engage in this sense and his desire to maintain stability and the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Macron said.
"There is no security for the Europeans if there is no security for Russia," he added.
Macron said that he had found elements of convergence with Putin, although differences remain.
Macron told Putin that creating a new security architecture in Europe could not be done by denying canceling states' right to join NATO.
What did Putin say?
The Russian president said Moscow and Paris had common concerns over the security situation in Europe, and that France has for years worked toward a solution to the Ukraine conflict.
Putin said that the talks with Macron were useful, substantive and business-like, adding that some of Macron's ideas were "realistic" and could form a basis for further joint steps.
Putin said that he hopes that the situation in Ukraine can be resolved peacefully and that Russia will "do everything to find compromises with the West." He added that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements and urged Ukraine to respect the accords.
Putin said that NATO had designated Russia as an "enemy." He scoffed at the idea that NATO is purely a defensive alliance, noting military campaigns by the US and its allies in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia.
Responding to Western criticism of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine, Putin said that "NATO members consider it possible to lecture us about our troop movements in our own territory and cast them as a threat of Russian invasion in Ukraine."
He went on to accuse NATO states of "moving military infrastructure close to [Russia's] borders" in equipping Ukraine's military and providing it with training.
When asked about reports regarding the presence of the Wagner Group in Mali, Putin said that the Russian Federation has nothing to do with the work of Russian security contractors in Mali. He added that Mali has the right to work with Russian private Russian firms if it so chooses.
Why did the talks take place?
Macron's visit to Moscow comes as Western leaders fear a possible Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine amid a massive buildup of Russian troops at the border.
Russia has denied it is planning to invade but has made a number of security demands to the US and NATO.
These include calling on NATO to stop its eastward expansion and to give guarantees that it will not accept Ukraine as a member.
The French president will travel to Kyiv on Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the situation.
No major breakthroughs
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in one meeting," though he added that a "substantive and lengthy" discussion was expected.
Peskov underlined the importance of Macron's visit in view of the fact that France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
"Macron told Putin himself that he is coming with certain ideas to find possible options for defusing tensions in Europe," Peskov added.
The diplomatic efforts to defuse the Ukraine crisis
Monday is also seeing German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visiting Kyiv with Czech, Slovak and Austrian counterparts for a two-day visit, as a week of intense diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions kicks off.
On the other side of the Atlantic, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is to meet on Monday with US President Joe Biden in Washington, before holding talks next week with Putin and Zelenskyy.
Scholz is also to meet Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda in Berlin on Tuesday, a German government spokesperson has said.
sdi, lo, tj/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters, Interfax)