Macron meets Putin, leading Europe’s diplomatic efforts to defuse Ukraine crisis

As the United States moves forces to Eastern Europe to support its NATO allies and Russia deploys more troops to the Ukrainian border, Macron visited his counterpart President Vladimir on Monday. Putin, in Moscow to demand a de-escalation of the crisis, before going to Kiev. .

Although the shape of a solution to the showdown is still unclear and the Kremlin continues to push for security guarantees that the US and NATO have called non-starters, Macron has said he and Putin were beginning to build a “constructive arrangement”, which was “mutually acceptable” to Russia and the rest of Europe to “help us avoid war”.

“This dialogue is absolutely essential, more than ever, to ensure the stability and security of the European continent,” Macron said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television during a meeting shortly after arriving at the Kremlin.

Putin said the two countries shared a “common concern” about the security situation in Europe. “I see how much effort the current leaders of France and personally the President of France are making to resolve the crisis associated with ensuring equal security in Europe,” he added, calling the issue “ resolution of the intra-Ukrainian crisis”. a phase that presents the conflict in the Donbass as a purely internal Ukrainian affair and avoids mentioning Russia’s role in it.

Putin has amassed 70% of the military personnel and weapons he would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, based on the latest US intelligence estimates, but US officials say they still don’t know if the Russian leader decided to launch an attack. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was planning an incursion, but has argued that NATO support for the country poses a growing threat to Russia.
The pivotal talks between Putin and Macron took place as US President Joe Biden met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington, DC on Monday. As the Biden administration has sought to demonstrate a united Western front against Putin’s aggression, Scholz has largely watched the escalating crisis from the sidelines – prompting criticism and questions about Germany’s willingness to confront Moscow.

Ahead of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her government was ready to apply “unprecedented sanctions” against Russia if the Kremlin failed to defuse tensions with Ukraine, adding that “the bullet is firmly in the camp of Moscow”.

“We will do everything so that there is no further escalation. We have therefore jointly prepared a series of tough measures against Russia for this eventuality,” Baerbock said.

“These unprecedented sanctions were coordinated and prepared with the approval of all partners,” she added.

Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel in December, has taken a softer approach to Russia than the United States and its allies. Germany has not joined the United States, France, Spain and other allies in bolstering troops along NATO’s eastern flank. He has also been reluctant to provide lethal aid, refusing to allow NATO ally Estonia to send German-made howitzers to Ukraine and mocking him for sending thousands of helmets instead of weapons.

Some experts have suggested that Germany’s controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which aims to bring natural gas from Russia to the country, could be the reason it is not playing a bigger role. In an apparent attempt to refute that criticism, Scholz will travel to Russia and Ukraine later this month.
As Putin tests the West’s resolve, Macron has moved to center stage, taking Merkel’s place as Europe’s chief mediator as he prepares for a re-election bid in his country. Currently heading the rotating presidency of the European Union, Macron has spoken several times a week with Putin and made his third phone call in a week to Biden on Sunday evening.

According to a statement from the Elysee Palace, Macron and Biden agreed on Sunday to capitalize on the “positive progress” made in the Normandy format – a grouping of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia – to strengthen the Minsk agreements, a ceasefire protocol. signed by Ukraine and Russia in 2015 after Russia annexed Crimea and fomented a rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Despite the agreement, the two sides have not experienced a stable peace.

The French president, who bluntly declared in 2019 that Europe was facing “NATO brain death”, caused by American indifference to the transatlantic alliance, and called on the EU to assume a greater role in the defense of Europe, now gets a chance to set out his vision of what a Europe more independent of American influence might look like.

In Moscow, Macron presented himself as a “quality interlocutor”, as Putin described him, according to a French presidential official. The official told reporters on Friday that one of Macron’s objectives for the talks was to try to balance “the new security order in Europe, including regional security guarantees and the role and capacity of the European Union to take charge of its own security”, alongside its commitments to the United States and NATO.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Macron seeks to prevent Russia’s massive military buildup of more than 100,000 troops from turning into a war and assuage Russia’s security grievances, which include demands to bar Ukraine and Georgia from membership of the alliance and a withdrawal of troops from the region. .

“I’m reasonably optimistic but I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles,” Macron told reporters on the flight to the Russian capital, according to CNN affiliate BFM TV, which was traveling with the French president.

Moscow, on the other hand, had been more cautious about the planned meeting. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that the Russian government had seen nothing new in response to its security demands.

“At the moment the atmosphere remains extremely tense,” Peskov added.

Joseph Ataman and Camille Knight of CNN in Paris contributed to this report.


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