Macron heads east on perilous peacemaking mission – Politico

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French President Emmanuel Macron is taking a great gamble by branding himself as the world leader who can strike a peace deal with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a meeting on Monday.

If he succeeds, he will be the hero who prevented the invasion of Ukraine and put Europe back on the map as a major diplomatic hitter, all in time for the French presidential election in April. Raising expectations of a breakthrough, the French media in recent days have been full of comparisons with former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who succeeded in abandoning the role of mediator in the conflict between the two countries. Russia and Georgia in 2008.

The single mission neatly aligns with Macron’s vision of European “strategic autonomy” – meaning that Europe can hold onto its own security interests and not sit on the sidelines while Washington and Moscow scrap them off. As Cyril Brett, an international relations expert at Sciences Po, put it, “You don’t win elections with foreign policy, but it is a reminder of Emmanuel Macron’s status as a statesman of international stature and allows him to stand out from other candidates even before entering the campaign, to show that he can make France exist.” on the international stage.”

On the other hand, the prospect of a Frenchman with a track record of conciliatory words about Russia trying to compete with Putin makes many countries in the region and beyond very nervous. Macron is already hinting that Western countries may have to make trade-offs with Russia, and any suggestion of bowing to Moscow’s bullying will play badly in NATO capitals that he believes Putin will only back down in the face of a show of force and increased arms shipments. to Ukraine.

Quality Partner

Putin himself — an expert in practicing divide and conquer tactics with Western leaders — suggests that Macron is someone he can handle, albeit in imprecise terms. French officials say Putin told Macron he was a “quality discussion partner” and said last week that the French president was “only the French president who can have such deep discussions with him and who is interested in dialogue”.

There are obvious reasons for Putin’s enthusiasm for Macron. The French leader is a prominent outsider in his belief that Moscow’s protests over the threat from NATO and Russia’s security concerns are a legitimate topic for discussion. By contrast, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken flatly rejected the suggestion that Russia is nothing but the aggressor in deploying some 130,000 troops to the Ukrainian border, calling Russia’s portrayal of Ukraine and NATO as instigators of military tensions “ridiculous.” and “false narrative”.

In a press interview before leaving for Moscow, Macron hit convenient line towards Putin. He told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that it was “legitimate” for Russia to raise its security concerns and insisted that Putin’s ultimate goal was not to invade Ukraine but to reset its relations with NATO and the European Union. Macron said European countries needed to strike a “new balance” while respecting Russia’s security concerns, though he was vague about the meaning of any of that.

He also hinted that Russia would not act alone, warning Western countries that they would have to offer something in any deal. “We have to be very realistic. We will not get unilateral moves, but it is necessary to avoid a deterioration of the situation,” he said in the interview.

Political scientist and author Nicole Bacharan has noted the extraordinary depth of sympathy in France for Russian arguments. France is a strange country and is in many ways pro-Russian. The idea that we should talk to Russia, as a great civilization, she said, is very popular in academia. Indeed, in a presentation of that Russian civilization, Macron said in an interview with JDD that Western countries need to understand “the contemporary traumas of this great people and great nation.”

nerves in Kiev

Publicly, Ukraine is taking advantage of opportunities to get A diplomatic deal is imminent. However, the fear in Kiev is that Macron will be swept into the territory of surrender under the 2015 Minsk Protocol, which was aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine, with diplomatic involvement from France and Germany. Ukrainians fear that Putin will win Western support by calling for local elections and granting him a kind of “special status” – de facto autonomy – for the non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. This might then give Russian agents some veto power over decisions made in Kiev.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk told Politico he was worried Macron would be under additional pressure to reach a deal as he faces elections in April.

“he [Putin] You will definitely play a very complicated game with the Europeans trying to impress Macron and [German Chancellor Olaf] Schulz, no doubt, agreed with the carrot and stick policy, saying: ‘Look, this is the best – this is the only solution. I co-sponsored this decision. There is no other way. If you do not accept this, what should I do? I have no other slope than to launch a large-scale military operation.”

Indeed, the Elysee said eastern Ukraine would be on the agenda and indicated that Putin wanted to see progress in the Minsk agreements. However, Macron’s staff also insisted that it was indisputable that Macron was a rogue and emphasized that he had the full blessing of other world leaders after a series of calls over the past week.

Macron will ask Putin to withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border, and also propose a halt to military activities in the Black Sea, Belarus and in the seas near Scotland. “We think that across all of this, there are elements that Vladimir Putin can calm down so that the allies see this as a signal, that there is a calm,” an Elysee adviser said before his visit.

personal touch

Besides the nitty-gritty of the Minsk protocols, it is usual for Macron to believe that face-to-face talks can break the deadlock.

“Macron believes that direct physical contact can help us understand each other better, and get to the heart of things,” said Pierre Sellal, a former French ambassador to the European Union. “But it is not certain that he will achieve his goals.”

Macron has long courted Putin, but that courtship has so far failed to yield political gains. He has consistently argued that Russia is a “deep” European country and that he shares Putin’s vision of Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The French leader has also consistently held the view that Putin is not trying to build a stand-alone or China-centric superpower, but that Moscow essentially wants to join the European Union.

Macron’s problem is that Putin is making Europeans guess his motives on a number of fronts ranging from restricting gas supplies to Europe to spreading disinformation (even Macron’s election campaign reportedly hit in 2017). One factor that will also prey on Macron is that Putin is more ideologically aligned with his far-right opponents in April’s presidential election – Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, who both want to leave NATO – rather than his liberal vision. The Russian leader has reasons for not wanting Macron to become the man of the moment.

However, Paris denies that it is naive when it comes to Russia, and insists that it is still alive to fight Moscow.

“We’ve had disappointments all too often,” Sellal said. I think Macron is cohesive and supports tough reactions like sanctions against Crimea. And he never asked to prepare for work [new] Sanctions must be stopped.”

France sees it as time for the European Union to take the lead in talks on Ukraine, rather than watching Russia and the United States discuss the conflict on its doorstep.

“It was necessary to act,” said Jean-Pierre Moliny, deputy director of the Institut Français. For international and strategic affairs in Paris, noting that France holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Europe must be present, so it’s either Macron, or it was [the EU’s foreign affairs chief] Josep Borrell, but something had to be done.”

The Elysee said on Friday that Macron also intends to discuss a “new European security order” with Putin, which would enable the European Union to “play its role” in managing crises on the continent and talking with Russia.

He’s good at big visions but pThe financial scientist Basharan warned that Macron is advancing the tightest tightrope between competing interests.

“No one is behind it, there is a strong reluctance to build a European power that is seen as a parallel to NATO,” Bacharan said. Germany is reluctant for economic reasons. Hence, people who feel a direct threat to Moscow are also hesitant.

“Macron is mysterious. At the moment, he is a very powerful member of NATO, but he is a man of history and there is a temptation to think that we can get along with Russia.”

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