Emmanuel Macron arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday, a day after his long meeting with Vladimir Putin, as the diplomatic drive continues to defuse tensions in the military standoff between Russia and Ukraine.
The French president met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for talks in the Ukrainian capital, where they are due to hold a joint news conference. Later Macron is scheduled to head to Berlin to see Olaf Scholz, upon the German Chancellor’s return from his visit to Washington.
Hoping to force a breakthrough in the East-West stalemate, the French leader said “a number of propositions” had emerged from his talks in Moscow, which lasted several hours.
A “deterioration of the continent’s stability” was in nobody’s interest, he said, stressing the “necessity to work fast to avoid escalation”.
According to the Elysée, Macron’s proposals include a commitment by both sides to abstain from new military moves, to begin a dialogue on Russia’s military capability and peace negotiations over the conflict in Ukraine, as well as on strategy.
“Building, together and in line with our fundamentals, concrete security guarantees for members of the European Union, for countries in the region — Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus — and Russia, is precisely the challenge we need to take up,” Macron said, following his meeting with Putin.
“We had a conversation that saw a number of propositions emerge on which I think, between Russia and France, I can say we converge towards.”
He added that France was pushing for existing accords to be respected and for a lasting solution to the crisis.
Seven years ago, France helped create a peace deal for eastern Ukraine in a bid to end fighting there. A conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists erupted in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ahead of his trip to Kyiv, Macron paid tribute to his Ukrainian counterpart for the “great self-control” Zelenskyy has shown in face of the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops to his country’s border.
Putin agreed that some of Macron’s proposals could serve as a basis for a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, adding that they agreed to have a call after the French president’s visit to the country.
The Russian president described his meeting with Macron at the Kremlin as businesslike but derided Western criticism of Russia’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border.
The US and its NATO allies have ignored Moscow’s demands for security guarantees, Putin claimed. He dismissed their claims about an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, adding that designating Russia as an enemy was “the military strategy of NATO of 2019”.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Washington after his meeting with Joe Biden on Monday that Germany and US were “absolutely united” on sanctions against Russia.
But Scholz did not go as far as the American president, who said at the joint White House press conference that there would “no longer be Nord Stream 2″ if Russia further invaded Ukraine with “tanks or troops”.
Germany and the UK have both decided to send additional troops to NATO battle groups in Eastern Europe, the two countries’ defence ministers said on Monday.
Berlin is to send 350 more soldiers to Lithuania as part of a NATO operation. Scholz said on Sunday that Germany was ready to send troops to the Baltic states.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Monday that Europe is facing its most serious security threat since the Cold War.
Western countries accuse Russia of planning a potential invasion of Ukraine — which Moscow denies, arguing it only wants to guarantee Russian security by stopping NATO’s eastward expansion.
Russia has amassed 130,000 troops at the Ukrainian border and is conducting joint war games with its ally Belarus.