By SYLVIE CORBET – The Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — There is still room for diplomacy in the Ukraine crisis. At least that is the belief of French President Emmanuel Macron, who continues to push for dialogue with Russia despite signs of potential war.
His stance reflects France’s post-World War II tradition of charting its own geopolitical course, refusing to blindly align itself behind the United States. It is also part of Macron’s domestic political strategy amid the campaign for the April presidential election, where nationalists set the agenda and a war in Ukraine could prove an unwelcome distraction.
Macron is preparing for talks with Vladimir Putin on Friday, and Macron’s presidential palace on Wednesday hosted marathon talks between Russian and Ukrainian advisers, the first face-to-face talks since Russia massed troops near Ukraine. these last weeks.
Wednesday’s talks between Russian, Ukrainian, French and German advisers appeared to buy time for all parties as they agreed to meet again in two weeks. But France’s diplomatic strategy complicates US and NATO efforts to show a tough, united front against Russia. And experts wonder if that will be enough to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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Macron’s call to Putin on Friday morning has two purposes, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: “to continue the dialogue” and “to push Russia to clarify its position and the purpose of the (military) maneuvers”.
Moscow has denied it was planning an assault, but it has moved around 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is holding military drills at several locations in Russia. This has led the United States and its NATO allies to prepare for the worst.
Macron “is at the heart of de-escalation efforts” and will also meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the coming days, Attal said.
French geopolitics expert Dominique Moïsi told The Associated Press that Macron has tried since taking office “to reset the relationship between France and Russia, and to do so on the basis of a mixture of Openness and firmness… It’s very commendable, but it worked? Will it work this time? That’s the challenge.
European diplomacy has helped ease tensions in the past. Wednesday’s talks took place in the so-called “Norman format”, which helped calm hostilities in 2015, a year after Putin ordered the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the insurgency backed by Russia started in eastern Ukraine.
Shortly after his election in 2017, Macron invited Putin to a meeting at the lavish Palace of Versailles, leaving him to be “very impressed by the greatness of France”, in the Russian president’s own words.
Macron also invited Putin to his summer residence at Fort de Bregancon on the French Riviera in a rare honor meant to boost peace talks with Ukraine in the summer of 2019.
“Macron has shown extreme confidence in his ability to seduce, charm world leaders and engage in dialogue with them,” Moïsi said.
It didn’t always work. His unlikely bond with Donald Trump at the start of their presidencies quickly soured. And despite similar worldviews, relations between Macron and President Joe Biden were deeply damaged by a secret submarine deal between the US, Australia and the UK last year, which forced France out of the market and undermined the 250-year-old alliance between the United States and France.
Macron said it was a “good thing” that the United States and Russia had resumed talks in recent weeks, but noted he had seen no concrete results. “It’s because a discussion with Russia is always difficult,” he added, citing his own efforts to establish a personal relationship with Putin.
The French position has two question marks, Moïsi said: “Will Macron have such a power of seduction towards Putin? and “Can France rally the support of a large number of European countries?”
Countries formerly under Soviet influence are particularly worried about Russia’s intentions in Ukraine and want a tougher line.
Last June, Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to pressure European leaders to hold a summit with Putin. The plan was rejected, notably by the Baltic countries and Poland, fearing to meet the Russian leader at a time when Europe’s relations with Moscow were so bad.
But Macron has given new impetus in recent days for such a high-level meeting. He insisted that this would not disrupt ongoing US-NATO negotiation efforts.
“Each of these channels must be exploited to the end to bring Russia back into a process of de-escalation, to obtain guarantees, and to allow us to build a new (European) order of security and stability,” he said. said this week.
He also last week pushed for a new EU security plan to ease tensions with Russia. Some EU partners have expressed concern that this will make things even more complex and jeopardize cooperation with the US
The French presidency stressed that Paris was working in close coordination with Washington and EU partners to be ready for a common response in the event of a Russian offensive in Ukraine. In such a case, “there will be reprisals and the cost (for Russia) will be very high,” Macron reiterated this week.
France has also expressed its willingness to station troops in Romania as part of a NATO force. The French Minister of Defense is visiting Romania, which borders Ukraine, on Thursday for talks on “deepening” defense ties, including in “arms cooperation”.
“Nothing concerning European security can be discussed or decided without the full involvement of Europeans,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told EU lawmakers this week. “We are at the table. We’re not just on the menu.
Lorne Cook in Brussels, Belgium contributed.
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