years ago the kremlin was not so popular among European visitors.
French President Emmanuel Macron monday arrives. The Hungarian Prime Minister was there last week. And in the next few days the German chancellor will also go.
They all aspire to reach the president, Vladimir Putin, the man who traces the course of Russia on his own, in the midst of the Russian military deployment near Ukraine and whose plans are a mystery even to his inner circle.
“The priority for me on the Ukrainian issue is dialogue with Russia and the de-escalation” Macron said this week when reporters asked about a possible in-person meeting with Putin. “I am very concerned about the situation on the ground.”
France works for diplomacy without “being innocent”said an official in his office, who commented on the negotiations on condition of anonymity.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin in China., AP Photo
There are some signs that the tightness could subside.
“From Putin’s perspective, already had a victory in a way because he’s got our attention and part of the maneuver was clearly for us to focus on him,” Fiona Hill, a former US intelligence officer on Russian and Eurasian issues, said last week during an appearance before the US Congress.
Sergei Ryabkov, the top Russian diplomat who led Moscow’s negotiation in last month’s security talks with the United States in Geneva, recently said that Russia is “setting the agenda that the United States and the so-called `collective West’ are now following. We have taken the foreign policy initiative.”
Macron insists that Europeans must have a say in the crisis, which threatens the stability of the continent. Macron and Putin have already spoken on the phone three times in recent days, with inconclusive results.
Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron in 2019. AP Photo
The French president has expressed skepticism toward NATO in the past, saying in 2019 that the organization was “brain dead.” There was no trace of that skepticism on Saturday when Macron spoke by phone with the group’s secretary general and highlighted the “France’s commitment within NATO to the security of its allies.”
France too has offered to send troops to Romania within NATOwhich has regained a sense of unity in recent weeks.
European diplomacy has helped to cool down in the past. The so-called “Normandy format” of Franco-German mediation helped end large-scale hostilities in Ukraine in 2015, which began the year before when Moscow lent its support to separatist rebels in the east of the country after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. .
Paris organized on January 26 a meeting of presidential advisers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. They agreed to meet again soon in Berlin, though Russian officials have said any new four-party summit would only make sense if the different sides agree on next steps to give pro-Russian separatists a special foothold in eastern Ukraine.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, warned against insisting that the country abide by the obligations it was forced into after a series of military defeats, arguing that it could provoke internal disputes that would benefit Moscow.
“When they were signed at Russian gunpoint — while the Germans and the French looked on — it was already clear to all rational people that it is impossible to implement these documents,” Danilov said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.
A Ukrainian soldier patrols a Donetsk street. AP Photo
The President of France arrives in Kiev on Tuesday. The new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who travels to the United States on Monday, he plans to fly to Moscow in a week.
“At least we can recognize (Macron) the merit of maintaining the dialogue (…). It helps to have a channel to express European concerns directly to Putin,” said Russian expert Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).
“Because (Macron) goes to Russia does not mean that he is abandoning Ukraine,” he added.
Macron recently acknowledged that “a conversation with Russia is always difficult”‘. The president has tried several times to establish a personal relationship with Putin, inviting him to the luxurious Palace of Versailles and, a rare honor, to his summer residence at Fort de Bregancon to give a boost to peace talks with Ukraine during the summer of 2019.
Putin responded by inviting Macron to Russia, but the coronavirus pandemic had prevented the trip until now.
So the visits and calls to the Kremlin continue, while Europe warily attempts to identify Putin’s ultimate goals and determine if he can be convinced that he has already achieved all that was possible, and that any further move will only backfire and end up putting him in a bad light in the eyes of the Russians.
In Ukraine, Hill noted, 70% of the population sees Russia as a hostile force.
And in Europe, “what has it achieved?” Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said in his testimony before Congress. “NATO is stronger today than it probably has been in the last 20 to 25 years.” Hodgers pointed out that Russia was expelled from the G-8 after the invasion of Ukraine, which reduced their direct contacts with leaders of the most powerful countries in the world.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether direct meetings with those same leaders will be enough to convince Putin that he has more to lose than to gain.
“Until now, all the moves have been according to their schedule.”Hill said. “Definitive decision-making in Ukraine depends also on Vladimir Putin and the small group of people in his inner circle who share his views.”
With Lori Hinnant and Vladimir Isachenkov. AP Agency