The concentration of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western worries that it heralds a possible offensive. Russia has denied any plans to attack its neighbor, but is urging the U.S. and its allies to bar Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations from joining NATO, halt weapons deployments there and roll back NATO forces from Eastern Europe. Washington and NATO have rejected the demands.
Macron, who is set to meet in the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin before visiting Ukraine Tuesday, said last week that his priority is “dialogue with Russia and de-escalation.”
Before heading to Moscow, Macron had a call Sunday with U.S. President Joe Biden. They discussed “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up on Ukraine’s borders, and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement.
Continuing the high-level diplomacy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv and Moscow on Feb. 14-15.
In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal for eastern Ukraine in a bid to end the hostilities between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists that erupted the previous year following the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
The agreement signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, helped stop large-scale fighting, but efforts at a political settlement have stalled and frequent skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas.
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany last met in Paris in December 2019 in the so-called Normandy format summit, but they failed to resolve main conflicting issues.
Amid the tensions over the Russian military buildup, presidential advisers from the four countries held talks in Paris on Jan. 26, but they didn’t make any visible progress and agreed to meet again in Berlin in two weeks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for another four-way Normandy summit, but the Kremlin said a meeting of leaders would only make sense if the parties agree on the next steps to give a special status to the rebel east.
Putin and his officials have urged France, Germany and other Western allies to encourage Ukraine to fulfill its obligations under the 2015 agreement, which envisaged a broad autonomy for the rebel east and a sweeping amnesty for the separatists. The agreement stipulated that only after those conditions are met would Ukraine be able to restore control of its border with Russia in rebel regions.
The Minsk deal was seen as a betrayal of national interests by many in Ukraine and its implementation has stalled. Amid the latest tensions, Ukrainian authorities have strongly warned the West against pressuring Ukraine to implement the agreement.
Last week, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press that an attempt by Ukraine to fulfil the Minsk deal could trigger internal unrest that would play into Moscow’s hand.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted that Moscow wants the rebel regions reintegrated into Ukraine in order to use them to effectively block the country’s pro-Western aspirations, vowing that “this is not going to happen.”