Government leaders and senior officials line up to walk the diplomatic tightrope that could mean the difference between war and an uneasy peace in Ukraine as Russia’s threat to its neighbor’s border continues unabated
Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in the Kremlin after his diplomatic foray to drum up support from China over the weekend and hosts the day’s main meeting when his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will seek to defuse tensions.
Western estimates of around 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine raise concerns that an offensive could be days away. At the same time, the borders of the NATO alliance are also being strengthened.
FRANCE MAKES A GREAT MOVEMENT
Even though the 27-nation European Union as a bloc has had little impact on the crisis, France has always thought it could force a breakthrough in the East-West impasse, and Macron is the embodiment of this confidence.
Moscow is just the first in a one-two diplomatic dance that will take him to Kiev on Tuesday. Its priority is simple: “dialogue with Russia and de-escalation”.
What makes the execution much more complicated is the need to keep a unified western front of more than two dozen players against the monolith of the Kremlin, where a single man’s will faces precious little opposition. .
Macron’s key challenge is to make sure things don’t get worse on the ground “before building gestures and trust mechanisms.” In an interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, he said Putin could make Ukraine just a means to a bigger goal.
“Russia’s geopolitical objective today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU,” Macron said. Even though Ukraine’s security cannot be a bargaining chip, Macron said “it is also legitimate for Russia to raise the question of its own security.”
AFTER THE FRENCH MOVE, GERMANY TOO
France and Germany have worked in tandem before. Seven years ago, they played a vital role in creating a peace agreement for eastern Ukraine with the aim of ending hostilities between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists who have erupted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Germany has been criticized for being slow and timid in its approach to the Ukraine crisis, but on Monday Europe’s economic juggernaut was moving on different fronts. As Chancellor Schulz prepared to meet with Biden, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has scheduled talks in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and is expected to visit the “line of contact” with pro-Russian separatists in the EU on Tuesday. east of Ukraine.
Germany’s show of solidarity in the face of tensions caused by Berlin’s refusal to send arms. Still, Baerbock said that “we defend – without ifs and buts – the territorial integrity of the country and alongside the Ukrainian people”.
Baerbock added that “together we will respond with tough and very concrete measures to any new Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
MORE TROOPS ON NATO’S EASTERN FRONT
Germany is also considering sending more troops to Lithuania, potentially bolstering its presence on NATO’s eastern flank. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht raised the possibility ahead of Scholz’s meeting with Biden. The German leader is due to receive the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic countries specifically feeling the heat from Moscow, on Thursday before traveling to Ukraine and Russia next week. Germany has led a NATO battlegroup in Lithuania for the past five years.
A few dozen elite US troops and equipment were seen landing in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine on Sunday, following orders from President Joe Biden to deploy 1,700 troops there amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Hundreds more infantry soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are still expected to arrive at Rzeszow-Jasionka airport, 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the Polish-Ukrainian border. A US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft brought in a few dozen troops and vehicles.
Sylvie Corbet and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Geir Moulson in Berlin, contributed to this report.