Macron flies to meet Putin in risky bid to avoid war

French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin.

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French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Russia on Monday with one goal in mind: to receive assurances from Moscow that he will begin to defuse tensions on the Ukrainian border.

“We will discuss the conditions for de-escalation,” Macron told French publication Le Journal du Dimanche ahead of his trip to Russia.

“We have to be realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to avoid a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and gestures of mutual trust,” Macron added, according to a CNBC translation.

Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine have escalated dramatically in recent weeks. The United States, Germany, France and other NATO countries have raised concerns about Russian troop buildups on the border with Ukraine; while the Kremlin has denied allegations that it is seeking to invade its neighbour.

Moscow has sharply criticized NATO deployments in Eastern Europe in recent years and China has backed Russia, saying last week it opposes further expansion of the military alliance. The United States has already refused to give in to Moscow’s demands on Ukraine and NATO.

European management

Monday’s meeting in Moscow is hugely important for the French president, who has been pushing for a more independent European Union in terms of defence, as he also faces elections in April when his current term ends. .

“I have always had a deep dialogue with President Putin and it is our responsibility to build historic solutions. There is, I think, an openness from President Putin to achieve this,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche.

The EU, which brings together 27 nations, has no common military capability – it instead relies on NATO for defense matters, where the United States plays a fundamental role in decision-making.

In this context, Macron has for several years focused on the development of Europe’s strategic military autonomy. But that has become an even bigger problem for Macron as France is in charge of the rotating EU presidency until June.

“Paris wants to prioritize a strategy of European engagement with Moscow — instead of a US-led strategy anchored in NATO,” analysts at consultancy Eurasia Group said in a note. research at the end of January.

“The French president also wants to show European leadership – instead of kowtowing to the United States – as he campaigns for re-election,” the analysts also said.

Empty Berlin?

Macron has yet to announce he is running for a second term in the April election, but opinion polls suggest he will win the vote and continue to lead the French presidency for another five years. However, further Russian aggression in Ukraine could hurt his potential re-election campaign.

At the same time, Macron is also looking to fill some of the void left by Angela Merkel, the former German Chancellor, who completed 16 years in power at the end of 2021. Merkel had relatively close ties to the Kremlin, aided by her mastery of Russian.

After a change of government in Berlin last year, Germany has yet to find its place in its relations with Russia.

“The world is becoming more and more dangerous and Germany, as Europe’s largest country and strongest economic power, cannot afford to remain neutral,” Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, said on Monday. to CNBC’s Annette Weisbach.

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