French President Emmanuel Macron believes he can offer “a historic solution” to the Ukraine crisis ahead of his arrival in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After a flurry of diplomatic activity that included talks with US President Joe Biden this weekend and three phone calls with Putin, Macron will land in Moscow on Monday seeking a “de-escalation” of the tense standoff on Ukraine’s eastern borders.
Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine but has tens of thousands of troops near its neighbor’s borders, prompting the United States to order an additional 3,000 troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank in Poland and Romania.
The White House believes Moscow has mustered at least 70% of the firepower it needs to give Vladimir Putin the option of a major military operation in mid-February. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that an invasion could take place “as soon as tomorrow.”
However, Macron told the Sunday newspaper newspaper on Sunday that Russia’s goal was not “Ukraine, but a clarification of the rules … with NATO and the EU”.
For this reason, it was “urgent to move towards a new order that our Europe deeply needs and that rests on the cardinal principle of sovereign equality between states,” he told the newspaper.
He said his dialogue with Putin would likely be enough to prevent a military conflict from breaking out despite pessimistic assessments in many Western capitals.
“The intensity of the dialogue that we have had with Russia and this visit to Moscow are designed to prevent that from happening,” Macron said.
“Then we will discuss the terms of the de-escalation. We have to be very realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to prevent the situation from deteriorating.”
Macron, whose diplomacy has been strengthened by the fact that France is the current holder of the European presidency, said that “he has always been in a deep dialogue with President Putin and our responsibility is to build a historic solution” to the problem of the European security. “I think President Putin is available for this,” Macron said.
The French leader, facing the challenge of presidential elections by far-right candidates in April, will travel to Kiev on Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
While Macron is in Moscow, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will be in Washington for talks with Joe Biden on Monday, with the aim of narrowing the differences between the US and German approach to the crisis. Berlin has been criticized by some NATO allies for not supplying weapons to Ukraine.
“There are strict export criteria that we are following in exporting weapons to crisis regions,” Scholz told the Washington Post on the eve of his White House visit, pointing to other ways Germany was helping Ukraine, including $2 billion in economic aid over seven years.
He also noted that his government was contributing to a NATO effort to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank, with hundreds of troops deployed in Lithuania, fighter jets in Romania and plans to send more fighter jets to the Baltic.
However, there are still differences between Washington and Berlin over the response if Russia attacks Ukraine. The United States has said that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will not open. Scholz’s government has not been as categorical, and the chancellor said the situation required “strategic ambiguity.”
“Please understand that I will not go into details, but our response will be united and decisive,” he said.
Amid a weeks-long military buildup, Moscow has said it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met. Those include a promise that NATO will never admit Ukraine, a demand that the United States and NATO have called unacceptable. Western governments have vowed to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and Boris Johnson has warned Russia that it would be a “tragic miscalculation” to invade its neighbor.
US officials have warned that an all-out attack could lead to the rapid capture of Kiev and potentially result in 50,000 civilians being killed or wounded, as well as up to 25,000 Ukrainian and 10,000 Russian soldiers killed. Millions could flee in a refugee crisis to Europe, they suggested.
They said the Russian military had now positioned 83 “battalion tactical groups” near Ukraine, each with between 750 and 1,000 soldiers. The figure is up from 60 battalion groups two weeks ago, they added.
Ukraine’s former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said he did not believe a Russian invasion was inevitable. He said the ruthless Russian troop buildup was proceeding like a textbook, but the Kremlin’s intentions and strategy remained opaque.
“We don’t see a political end here,” he said. “If Putin seizes Kiev, there will be a full-scale war. The forces of the Ukrainian army will fight. There will be enormous resistance forever. Why would you do that?
“Ukraine is not going to say: ‘Let’s join Russia.’ This is understood. Unless, of course, Putin is totally delusional and has his own grasp of reality. He will be blood, sanctions. No one needs that kind of international war in Europe right now.”
However, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tried on Sunday to play down “doomsday predictions” about an impending Russian invasion, saying his country was strong and had unprecedented international support.
Earlier on Sunday, Macron spoke with Biden for 40 minutes to “share information on contacts made over the weekend” and for “good coordination” ahead of the Frenchman’s mission to Moscow.
The White House said the two leaders discussed “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism