French President Emmanuel Macron flies to Moscow on Monday in bid to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to dial down tensions with Ukraine, where Western powers fear the Kremlin plans an invasion.
Moscow gave the visit a guarded welcome, saying it would listen to Macron’s ideas, but played down expectations of a breakthrough.
Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. It denies planning an invasion, but says it could take unspecified military measures if its demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Kyiv.
“In recent days there has been nothing new on the topic of security guarantees for Russia, our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic,” Peskov added.
Macron phoned Western allies, Putin and Ukraine’s leader ahead of the visit, and will follow up on Tuesday with a trip to Kyiv, staking a lot of political capital on a mission that could prove embarrassing if he returns empty-handed.
“We have to be very realistic,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview in the build-up to the mission.
“We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to prevent a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and reciprocal gestures of trust.”
Two sources close to Macron said one aim of his visit was to buy time and freeze the situation for several months, at least until a “Super April” of elections in Europe- in Hungary, Slovenia and, crucially for Macron, in France.
RED CARPETS, CONFRONTATIONS
Soon after his election, Macron rolled out the red carpet for Putin at the Palace of Versailles, but also used the visit to publicly decry Russian meddling during the election. Two years later, the pair met at the French president’s summer residence.
Eastern European countries who suffered decades under Soviet rule have criticized Macron’s approach to Russia, leery of his talk of negotiating a “new European security order”.
To counter critics ahead of the trip and take on the mantle of European leadership in this crisis, Macron has been at pains to consult with other Western leaders, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden.
However, unlike in the previous Ukraine crisis in 2015 when then German chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Francois Hollande travelled to the Kremlin together, Macron has not taken his German counterpart with him.
Olaf Scholz will be travelling to Kyiv and then Moscow next week. His foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, is in Kyiv on Monday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and will visit the conflict area in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
The French president’s visit to Moscow and Ukraine comes less than three months before a presidential election at home. His political advisers see a potential electoral dividend, although Macron has yet to announce whether he will run.
“For the president, it’s an opportunity to show his leadership in Europe. That he is above the fray,” one French government source said.