Macron flies to Moscow to ease Ukrainian tensions

  • The Kremlin minimizes expectations before meeting
  • A high-stakes trip for Macron before the elections
  • The French leader has consulted his allies and is planning a visit to Kyiv
  • Macron and Putin have a history of sparring dating

MOSCOW, Feb 7 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron is flying to Moscow on Monday to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease tensions with Ukraine, where Western powers fear a Kremlin invasion.

Moscow greeted the visit cautiously, saying it would listen to Macron’s ideas, but played down expectations of a breakthrough.

Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. He denies planning an invasion, but says he could take unspecified military action if his demands are not met, including a NATO pledge never to admit Kiev. Read more

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was aware of Macron’s plans to ease tensions. But he added: “The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs during a single meeting.”

“In recent days, there is nothing new on the subject of security guarantees for Russia, our Western interlocutors prefer not to discuss this subject,” added Peskov.

Macron phoned Western allies Putin and Ukraine’s leader ahead of the visit, and will follow up on Tuesday with a trip to Kyiv, pouring a lot of political capital into a mission that could prove embarrassing if he returns empty-handed. .

“We have to be very realistic,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview as part of the preparation for the mission.

“We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to prevent a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and gestures of mutual trust.”

Two sources close to Macron said one of the purposes of his visit was to buy time and freeze the situation for several months, at least until a “super April” of elections in Europe – in Hungary, Slovenia and, especially for Macron, in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) hold a joint news conference in Berlin, Germany January 25, 2022. Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS


The French leader, who has earned a reputation for high-profile diplomatic incursions since coming to power in 2017, has tried to both cajole and confront Putin over the past five years.

Shortly after his election, Macron rolled out the red carpet for Putin at the Palace of Versailles, but also used the visit to publicly denounce Russian interference in the election. Two years later, the couple met at the summer residence of the French president.

Eastern European countries that suffered for decades under Soviet rule criticized Macron’s approach to Russia, suspicious of his rhetoric about negotiating a “new order of European security”.

To counter criticism before the trip and assume the role of European leader in this crisis, Macron has sought to consult with other Western leaders, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.

However, unlike the previous Ukraine crisis in 2015, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Francois Hollande visited the Kremlin together, Macron did not take his German counterpart with him.

Olaf Scholz will travel to Kiev and then to Moscow next week. Its Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, is in Kyiv on Monday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and will visit the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.

The French president’s visit to Moscow and Ukraine comes less than three months before a presidential election in his country. His political advisers see a potential electoral dividend, although Macron has yet to announce whether he will run.

“For the president, this is an opportunity to show his leadership in Europe. That he is above the fray,” said a French government source.

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Reporting by Michel Rose, additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov in Moscow; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Heavens

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