In call with Putin, Macron pursues a diplomatic solution in Ukraine

PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron of France and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, spoke by phone on Sunday and agreed on “the need to prioritize a diplomatic solution to the current crisis ” and secure a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine within the next few hours, according to a statement from Mr Macron’s office.

The statement added that, “if conditions are met,” a diplomatic route would allow “a meeting at the highest level to define a new peace and security order in Europe.” “

The Kremlin, however, is somewhat optimistic. In a statement released after the phone call, Putin reiterated his position that Western countries are pushing the Ukrainian government to a “military solution” in the conflict with Russian-backed separatists. support in the east.

The Ukrainian government in Kyiv insists it has no plans to launch an offensive against separatist territories, but separatist leaders over the weekend began an “evacuation”. ” women and children, claiming that such an attack was imminent.

After the phone call with Putin, Macron spoke with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, praising his “calmness” and “determination to prevent escalation”.

More specifically, the presidents of France and Russia, who spoke for an hour and 45 minutes, agreed to resume diplomatic work in Normandy Format talk – a negotiating channel created seven years ago by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to resolve the regional conflict in eastern Ukraine. The foreign ministers of France and Russia will also meet in the coming days.

The presidents also discussed various ways to rapidly de-escalate the security crisis in and around Ukraine.

On Sunday, the Defense Minister of Belarus announced that Russia’s military deployment in Belarus within the framework of joint exercises will be extended, raising concerns that they could be used to invade Ukraine. But a senior official in Mr Macron’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with French government practice, said Mr Putin told Mr Macron that “these exercises will not last”. and Russian troops will withdraw from Belarus at some point.

Mr Macron’s office also said “intense work” would be carried out to facilitate the meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group, a group of officials from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Syria. Europe has tried to facilitate a diplomatic path. war in the Donbas region, eastern Ukraine.

The goal of the meeting, scheduled to be held on Monday, is to “gain commitments from all parties involved in a ceasefire” on the front lines in eastern Ukraine between Russian-led separatists and Russian-backed separatists. Ukrainian government support and forces.

Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter that he informed Mr. Macron during their call “about the current security situation and new provocative shelling”. Mr Macron’s office said the call was part of his efforts “to maintain ways out of the crisis through dialogue and diplomacy.”

“Risk is high, our concerns are strong, but we believe that diplomatic resources have not been exhausted,” said the senior French official.

Although the Kremlin said it was necessary to intensify “the search for solutions through diplomatic means”, it also “emphasized” that Kyiv is “stubbornly refusing to implement the Minsk agreements and the agreements reached”. in the Normandy Format.”

Mr. Macron’s approach to the crisis so far has been to try to defuse it through tense dialogue with Putin. Sunday’s call was the fourth between the two leaders regarding tensions on the Ukrainian border since mid-December, including Macron’s visit to Moscow this month. This approach initially prevented France from expressing undue alarm at the possibility of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But in the face of Russia’s rise on the Ukrainian border, France’s stance has shifted slightly in recent days. On Saturday, Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Foreign Minister, said in a declare that “Russia’s actions and words are inappropriate” and warned Russia against “any further violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

On the same day, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated its recommendations for travelers to Ukraine and urged all French citizens to remain there without compelling reason to “leave the country.” It also recommends that French nationals postpone any travel to Ukraine.

Unlike the United States, France still opens its embassy in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. “We stayed in Kyiv,” said French ambassador to Ukraine wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Anton Troianovski contribution report. In call with Putin, Macron pursues a diplomatic solution in Ukraine

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