Stock futures waver as Biden, Putin agree 'in principle' to Ukraine summit

Ukraine flag on chess between USA and Russia on chess board for political conflict and war concept by 3d rendering technique.

Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock via Getty Images

Investors are feeling concern, as well as some relief, over the situation in Ukraine, setting up the market for another turbulent week. Russia was supposed to start pulling back troops after several weeks of joint military drills ended on Sunday, though Belarus just confirmed that 30,000 of them would stay in the country indefinitely. They are part of as many as 190,000 Russian troops camping out on Ukraine’s border despite prior pledges and announcements that they would return to base.

Last-ditch diplomacy: Trying to avoid the biggest war in Europe since 1945, French President Emmanuel Macron took to the phone all weekend and managed to arrange a meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Biden. However, the U.S. noted that it agreed to the summit “in principle,” meaning it’s conditioned on Moscow holding off on an invasion. “We are always ready for diplomacy,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”

Coming back from earlier losses, U.S. stock index futures bought into the latest news, rising 0.8% before paring the gains (note that American markets are closed today for Presidents’ Day). WTI crude oil futures (CL1:COM) also fell to under $90/bbl, with fears of an energy crisis temporarily moving to the back burner, though that the move lasted just as long. “The market is still very much driven by the Ukraine situation,” declared Tai Hui, chief Asia markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

Go deeper: Shelling in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has intensified in recent days, with both sides claiming the other has violated ceasefire agreements. Pro-Russian separatists in areas controlled by Moscow since 2014 have even ordered the mobilization of fighting-age men, as well as the evacuation of women and children. Kyiv and the West say the moves are part of a Russian propaganda campaign that is seeking a pretext for a full-fledged military invasion, though Moscow to date has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine.

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