On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv to push a plan to de-escalate the “extreme tension” between Russia and NATO over potential Ukrainian membership in the alliance and pave the way for talks on a new security agreement for Europe and Russia.
Macron acknowledged that finding a diplomatic solution would take time, but he expressed cautious optimism that a path toward de-escalation could be found.
As Russia rejects NATO’s expansion and escalates tensions with a massive military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, Macron is seeking an ambitious new path to meet Europe’s, Russia’s, Ukraine’s, and other states’ security needs while attempting to establish dialogue to build trust and find compromises.
Macron’s five-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Monday did not defuse the crisis, but French officials told journalists that there was hope for a structured dialogue with Russia on collective security, and Putin was portrayed as willing to discuss de-escalation.
Macron stated that the only way to stabilize the region was to end an eight-year war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine through the Minsk agreement, which has been stalled since 2015.
Putin has accused Ukraine of failing to implement the agreement, while Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have warned that doing so on Russia’s terms would spark protests and potentially destabilize the country.
Macron stated that both parties must carry out the agreement, and Putin and Zelensky both agreed to do so. He stated that a new meeting of political advisers on the Minsk peace process would be held in Berlin on Thursday, with representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France attending.
He thanked Zelensky for “confirming to me in a very clear manner during our discussions your willingness to implement these same agreements.” It is only through this shared determination that we will be able to build peace and a viable political solution.”
He denied a report in the British press that Macron and Putin had reached an agreement on Ukraine and accused the West of inflaming tensions by sending planeloads of arms and ammunition to Ukraine. For the first time Monday, Putin suggested that some of Macron’s proposals could offer a joint path to de-escalation.
Moscow has demanded broad security guarantees that would rewrite Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture, including granting Russia a veto over NATO expansion and withdrawing NATO forces and equipment from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.
NATO and the US have offered Moscow arms control compromises, but Putin has stated that these are of secondary importance to Moscow.
Peskov said Russian forces gathered in Belarus for a major joint military exercise beginning Thursday would leave the country at the end of the event later this month, echoing comments made by Belarusian military commanders last month. Officials in the United States are concerned that the exercise could be used as part of a multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops and equipment have traveled more than 6,000 miles to Belarus for the maneuvers, which include the deployment of advanced missile systems, fighter planes, and bombers.
Scholz was hosted by Biden at the White House as Western allies try to present a united front in the crisis. Scholz has been chastised at home and abroad for not doing enough to address the crisis, despite supplying Kyiv with helmets while other NATO allies send troops and military equipment. The German leader stated on Monday that his country is “absolutely united” with the US and other NATO allies and that “we will not be taking different steps.”
On Monday, Putin urged Zelensky to carry out the 2015 Minsk agreement, which provided for some autonomy in Ukraine’s east as well as amnesty for Russian-backed insurgents. The agreement, which is generally viewed favorably by Moscow, was negotiated by Berlin and Paris in the aftermath of several Ukrainian military defeats following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Meanwhile, an influential separatist commander in Ukraine’s contested eastern territories is said to have asked Russia to send 30,000 reinforcements to help rebel forces. According to Alexander Khodakovsky, the separatists have 30,000 fighters, but only 10,000 are fit for front-line duty. “We need at least 40,000, but 40,000 on the front lines with automatic rifles,” he said.