PARIS ( Associated Press) – There is still room for diplomacy in the Ukraine crisis. At least that is the belief of French President Emmanuel Macron, who pushes for talks with Russia despite signs pointing to a possible war.
His stance reflects France’s post-World War II tradition of carving its own geopolitical path, refusing to follow America blindly. Ukraine could prove to be an unpleasant distraction.
Macron is preparing to speak with Vladimir Putin on Friday, and Macron’s presidential palace hosted marathon talks between Russian and Ukrainian advisers on Wednesday, following Russia’s rush of troops near Ukraine in recent weeks. This was the first face-to-face conversation of its kind.
Wednesday’s talks between Russian, Ukrainian, French and German advisers appeared to give more time to all sides, as they agreed to meet again in two weeks. But France’s diplomacy-focused strategy complicates efforts by the US and NATO to show a tough, united front against Russia. And experts question whether this will be enough to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Macron’s call with Putin on Friday morning has two goals, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: “to continue the dialogue” and “push Russia to clarify its position and the purpose of the (military) maneuver.” “
Moscow has denied that it is planning an attack, but it has moved an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is conducting military exercises in several places in Russia. This has prompted the United States and its NATO allies to prepare for the worst.
Atal said Macron was at the center of efforts to de-escalate tensions and would also speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the coming days.
Dominique Mossi, a French expert on geopolitics, told The Associated Press that since being in power, Macron has tried to “re-establish relations between France and Russia and do it on the basis of a mix of open and firm Is… it’s very commendable, but it worked? Will it work this time? That’s the challenge.”
European diplomacy has helped defuse tensions in the past. Wednesday’s talks took place in the so-called “Normandy format” that helped ease hostilities in 2015, a year after Putin ordered the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and a Russia-backed insurgency began in eastern Ukraine.
Shortly after his election in 2017, Macron invited Putin to a meeting at the splendid Palace of Versailles, making him “very impressed by the grandeur of France”, according to the Russian president’s own words.
Macron invited Putin to his summer residence at the Fort de Bregançon on the French Riviera, in a rare honor to boost peace talks with Ukraine during the summer of 2019.
“Macron has shown immense confidence in his ability to woo world leaders, attract and initiate dialogue with them,” Mossi said.
It hasn’t always worked. Her unlikely bond with Donald Trump quickly soured in the early days of her presidency. And despite similar world views, relations between Macron and President Joe Biden were deeply damaged last year by a secret US-Australia-UK submarine deal that forced France out of the market and the 250-year-old between the US and France. weakened the alliance.
Macron said it was a good thing that the US and Russia had resumed talks in recent weeks, but added that he did not see any concrete results. “That’s because a discussion with Russia is always difficult,” he said, citing his efforts to establish a personal relationship with Putin.
The French position has two question marks, Mossi said: “Will Macron have that much power to seduce Putin?” and “Can France support a large number of European countries?”
Countries with Soviet influence are particularly concerned about Russia’s intentions in Ukraine and want a hard line.
Last June, Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to pressure EU leaders to hold summit talks with Putin. The plan was rejected, particularly by the Baltic countries and Poland, amid concerns about a meeting with the Russian leader, when Europe’s relations with Moscow were so bad.
But Macron has in recent days renewed emphasis on such a high-level meeting. He insisted it would not hinder the ongoing negotiation efforts of the US and NATO.
“Each of these channels must be exploited to the end to bring Russia back into the process of de-escalation, to provide guarantees and allow us to create a new (European) security and stability order,” he said this week. “
He also pressed for a new EU security plan to ease tensions with Russia last week. Some EU partners expressed concern that this would complicate things even more, and reduce cooperation with the US.
The French president stressed that Paris is working in close coordination with Washington and EU partners to be prepared for a joint response if there is a Russian invasion of Ukraine. In such a case, “there will be retaliation and the cost (for Russia) will be very high,” Macron reaffirmed this week.
France also expressed a desire to deploy troops to Romania as part of a NATO force. France’s defense minister is on Thursday visiting Romania, which has a border with Ukraine, for talks on “deepening” defense ties, including “arms cooperation”.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told EU lawmakers this week: “Nothing related to European security can be discussed or decided without the full participation of the European people.” “We’re at the table. We’re just not on the menu.”
Lorne Cook in Brussels, Belgium contributed.