French President Emmanuel Macron will seek to persuade his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “de-escalate” the Ukraine crisis at a meeting in Moscow on Monday, in the latest diplomatic attempt to prevent the massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders from turning into an all -out war in eastern Europe.
Macron comes to the meeting with a specific set of ideas, the Kremlin said, on how to ease tension after Moscow has built up well over 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. Additional Russian forces are due to start military exercises in Belarus this week.
“We know – and Macron himself has said this to Putin – that he has specific ideas for ways to defuse the tensions in Europe, and he plans to share these ideas with Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a call with reporters on Monday. .
Macron’s advisers say his approach is to persevere with “Normandy format” talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany over the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, to try to persuade Moscow to pull back its forces and tone down its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. , and finally to forge a new long-term security arrangement for Europe.
The Moscow meeting could be pivotal. France’s president, who has spoken to Putin by phone three times in the past 10 days, has signaled that he would recognize Russian security concerns without abandoning support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.
But although the Kremlin said it expected talks to be long and substantial, it also warned against expecting a watershed moment. “The situation is too complex to expect some sort of breakthrough during just one meeting,” Peskov said.
Talks are due to begin in the afternoon in Moscow with a joint press conference in the evening. The subject of tensions in Europe, as well as growing demand for security guarantees from the west, including a roll back of NATO’s eastward enlargement, would naturally “absolutely dominate” the discussion, Peskov said. Western allies have said they cannot accept Moscow’s demands that NATO troop numbers be cut and that Ukraine must never join the alliance.
Macron is acting as the emissary of the west in seeking a Russian “de-escalation” of the crisis not only because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU but also because he has maintained constant contact with Putin since he was elected French president five years ago.
“There are few heads of state who have that kind of relationship,” said Marie Dumoulin of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He’s had this regular dialogue with Putin – even though it hasn’t produced the hoped-for results.”
Macron has emphasized that he is co-ordinating closely with European and NATO allies in his latest approach to Putin. He spoke to US President Joe Biden for 40 minutes on Sunday to discuss what the White House called “diplomatic and deterrence efforts” in the crisis.
Macron has taken a carefully balanced position, recognizing that Russia has security concerns that must be addressed while insisting that the sovereignty and security of Ukraine and other European countries cannot be compromised. He is due to meet Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, in Kyiv on Tuesday after his meeting with Putin.
Biden is due to host Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, on Monday.
“We have to be very realistic,” Macron said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche before leaving for Moscow. “We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to stop the deteriorating situation.”
Diplomats and analysts say it will be very difficult, even for someone who has explicitly accepted that it is “legitimate” for Russia to raise its own security concerns, to extract concessions over Ukraine, although they assume Macron’s recent conversations with Putin have given him grounds. for hope.
“Russia’s geopolitical aim today is obviously not Ukraine but the clarification of the rules of how Moscow lives with NATO and the EU,” Macron told Le Journal du Dimanche.