Macron to meet Putin to try to defuse Ukrainian tensions | Ukraine-Russia crisis
French President Emmanuel Macron is set to travel to Moscow in a bid to secure commitments from Russian President Vladimir Putin that will ease tensions over Ukraine.
Ahead of Monday’s trip, the French leader said he hoped to “discuss the terms of a de-escalation” during his talks with Putin.
After the visit to Moscow, Macron will then travel to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday for talks with the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Russia has mustered some 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, demanding security assurances from the United States and NATO, including that the alliance reject Ukraine as a member and arrest any eastward expansion.
However, he denies planning an invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and NATO called Russian demands non-starters, and Washington deployed thousands more troops to Eastern Europe. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Sunday that Putin could order an attack on Ukraine within days or weeks.
But Macron – who spoke to Joe Biden ahead of the Moscow trip as part of a ‘coordination logic’ – downplayed the likelihood of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and said his negotiations with Putin were likely to avoid a military conflict.
“Russia’s geopolitical objective today is clearly not Ukraine, but the clarification of the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the European Union,” he told the Journal du Dimanche.
“The intensity of the dialogue we have had with Russia and this visit to Moscow are likely to prevent [a military operation] to occur. Then we will discuss the modalities of de-escalation,” he said.
But he warned that “we have to be very realistic” and that “we won’t get unilateral gestures from Russia”.
Biden and Macron talk ‘diplomatics and deterrence’
The French leader, who has earned a reputation for high-profile diplomatic incursions since being elected in 2017, has both tried to cajole and confront Putin over the past five years.
Shortly after coming to power, Macron rolled out the red carpet for Putin at the Palace of Versailles, but also used the visit to publicly condemn Russian interference in the election. Two years later, the couple met at the summer residence of the French president.
Eastern European countries that suffered for decades under Soviet rule criticized Macron’s stance on Russia, wary of his rhetoric about negotiating a ‘new European security order’ with Russia .
To counter criticism before the trip and assume the role of European leader in this crisis, Macron has sought to consult other Western leaders this time, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.
During Macron’s 40-minute call with Biden on Sunday, the two leaders “discussed ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military buildup on Ukraine’s borders,” the White House said. in a press release.
They also “affirmed their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, he added.
Macron’s trip to Moscow was planned in coordination with Washington and Berlin, according to the Reuters news agency.
Citing two sources close to Macron, the agency said one of the aims of the French president’s visit was to buy time and freeze the situation for several months, at least until a “super April” in elections in Europe – in Hungary, Slovenia and, especially for Macron, in France.
His political advisers see a potential electoral dividend from the visit, although Macron has not yet announced whether he will run.
“For the president, this is an opportunity to show his leadership in Europe. That he is above the fray,” a French government source told Reuters.
As Macron and Putin meet in Moscow, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet Biden in Washington, DC.
The chancellor said Moscow would pay a “heavy price” in the event of an attack on Ukraine but dismissed the possibility of sending lethal weapons to Kiev.
Scholz will travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15.