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Macron meets Putin as France tries to soften diplomatic power over Ukraine

President Biden said on Monday the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany would not go ahead if Russia invades Ukraine, stepping up pressure to isolate Moscow as French President Emmanuel Macron launched a series of shuttle diplomacy aimed at unfreezing tensions between the Kremlin and the West.

Speaking at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr Biden said “there will be no more Nord Stream 2” if Moscow invades Ukraine. Mr Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine in what Western officials fear could be the prelude to an invasion that would be Europe’s biggest ground war since World War II . His demand: that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reduce its military presence in Eastern Europe in 1997, before most eastern countries joined the alliance.

Mr. Scholz did not directly address the pipeline, speaking of sanctions: “We act together. We are absolutely united. Nord Stream 2, which runs along the old Nord Stream pipeline, is complete but is awaiting certification to go live, which German authorities have said is unlikely to happen before the second half of the EU. year.

The remarks came as Mr Macron met Mr Putin for more than five hours of talks inside the Kremlin. Mr Macron said the Russian leader had assured him he was ready to explore ways to defuse the Ukraine crisis.

“It is our shared responsibility to agree on concrete measures to stabilize the situation,” Macron said, adding: “President Putin assured me of his readiness to commit to this logic.” .

Mr Putin said Mr Macron had launched “a number of his ideas, proposals, which it is still too early to talk about. Nevertheless, I consider it entirely possible to lay the foundations for our next steps.

Mr Macron was embarking on a diplomatic tour that would also take him to Kiev for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He was also coordinating with Mr. Scholz, who met with Mr. Biden on Monday.

Diplomacy allows Mr. Macron to restore his image as a statesman before his re-election in April. The French public has long expected its leaders, from General Charles de Gaulle to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, to act with autonomy on the world stage. France is the only major military power in the European Union to have its own nuclear arsenal.

“Mr. Macron needs to strengthen his balance sheet,” said Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, an analyst at Paris think tank IFRI.

Ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit, underscoring their deep ties as Russia faces growing tensions with the United States and NATO in the subject of Ukraine. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Associated Press

Mr Macron is also filling a leadership void in Europe left by the departure of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His successor, Mr Scholz, has been criticized at home for his relative absence from the diplomatic scene since the start of the Ukraine crisis when other European leaders have been more visible.

France and Germany share the view that the United States, United Kingdom and some Eastern European states have been too alarmist about building up Russian forces. France and Germany are eager to demonstrate their unity with the United States and other NATO allies, but both countries have always been skeptical of the prospect of Ukraine joining the alliance. . Germany was also slower than the United States to show support for the 2013 protests in Kyiv that ultimately led to the departure of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

What sets Germany apart is its heavy reliance on Russia for its energy supply and the economic disruption it would face if Russian gas supplies were interrupted by conflict. The country imports well over half of its gas from Russia and that reliance is set to increase as it gradually shuts down its last nuclear power plants this year and shifts away from coal.

Mr. Scholz has also been criticized in the United States for refusing to send weapons to Ukraine. Chancellery officials said Mr Scholz was working behind the scenes to defuse the crisis and would travel to both Ukraine and Russia in the coming days after meeting Mr Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda in Berlin on Tuesday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Washington on Monday.


Photo:

Kay Nietfeld/Zuma Press

Ahead of the meeting of US and German leaders in the Oval Office on Monday, Biden said the two nations were “working together to further deter Russian aggression in Europe.”

On Monday, Germany said it was sending up to 350 troops to Lithuania as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence on the alliance’s eastern flank. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who was in Kyiv on Monday, said she was planning a trip to the frontline area in eastern Ukraine and would visit a military hospital that Germany has supplied with medical equipment. She added that Germany is ready to continue supporting Ukraine financially.

“We are prepared to pay a high economic price, because what is at stake is Ukraine’s security,” she said.

Mr Macron wants Mr Putin to withdraw his forces and agree on steps to implement a peace deal that was brokered years ago for Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Kiev is fighting pro-separatists. Russians. Mr Macron said he briefed Mr Putin on his ambitions to reshape Europe’s defense strategy. Last month, the French leader took the helm of Europe’s rotating presidency with a speech calling for “a new order of security and stability” in Europe, outside of the post-war transatlantic alliance that has supported continental security for decades.

Some analysts warn that Mr Macron risks playing into Mr Putin’s hands with his outreach to Moscow. When discussing plans to overhaul Europe’s defence, analysts say, Mr Macron must be careful not to undermine NATO’s role in the continent’s security.

“Russia wants Europeans to become more independent from the United States,” Ms Kastoueva-Jean said. “But they understand that Europe is still very far from having achieved this strategic autonomy,” she added.

Sitting for the talks in Moscow, Mr Putin addressed Mr Macron using the informal Russian word for you, usually reserved for friends. The two leaders were seated at separate ends of a long oval table.

“I understand that we have a common concern about what is happening in the field of security in Europe,” Putin said.

French officials say Mr Macron’s history with Mr Putin allows him to play a unique role in mediating between Russia and the United States In a phone call with Mr Macron last week, the President Russian described the Frenchman as a “quality interlocutor”, according to an assistant to Mr. Macron.

Since his election in 2017, Mr. Macron has sought to cultivate ties with Mr. Putin, meeting him a dozen times, including a visit to the Palace of Versailles. Mr Macron has pushed Western allies to maintain a dialogue with Mr Putin, raising fears in some that he is too willing to offer concessions to Mr Putin.

A meeting he had with Mr Putin at the French president’s summer residence at Fort Brégançon on the French Riviera in August 2019 baffled other Western governments, who felt they had no not been properly informed that this would take place.

“There has always been a lingering suspicion that France is playing solo and might be too willing to make concessions to Russia,” said Bruno Tertrais, political scientist and deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a think tank in Paris. “The visit to Brégançon was the original sin,” he added.

Later that month, Mr Macron angered French diplomats with a blunt plea to reach out to Russia.

“We have our own deep state,” Macron told an annual gathering of French ambassadors, “and I know many of you are suspicious of Russia.”

In December 2019, he hosted a meeting between MM. Putin and Zelensky at the Élysée Palace. This remains the only time that MM. Putin and Zelensky met in person.

The meeting appeared to breathe new life into the Norman format, the peace talks between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In the months that followed, Kiev and Russian-backed militants in Ukraine’s eastern provinces swapped prisoners and took other steps to ease tensions. But then the progress stalled.

“The Russian side has stopped playing the game,” said Marie Dumoulin, Russia expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former French diplomat.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at [email protected], Ann M. Simmons at [email protected] and Gordon Lubold at [email protected]

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