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PARIS – When Emmanuel Macron welcomes European leaders to Versailles on Thursday to discuss energy and defense policy, he will be faced with a monumental yet familiar backdrop. After all, it was in those same gilded halls that the French President hosted Vladimir Putin in 2017 – the first step in an attempt to engage the Russian leader, which continued even as the military Russia launched a brutal attack on Ukraine.
No leader has spent as much time talking to Putin as Macron. Not just two men say 11 times in the last month – on two occasions on the same day – but, breaking with its discretionary tradition, the Elysée Palace has released a detailed account of their calls, offering a glimpse about their relationship.
Macron may have tried to keep an open line of communication. What he can’t do is demonstrate any indication of influencing Putin’s behavior. In February, when Russian troops were massed on the Ukrainian border, Macron flew to Moscow, where he sat at a very long table and tried to persuade Putin to show restraint. A few weeks later, Russia launched the invasion.
On March 3, Putin initiated a call with Macron to inform him that operations in Ukraine were going “as planned”, according to Elysée. Meanwhile, on land, Russian forces were mount an attack about Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia, raising concerns about radioactive leaks.
Putin allegedly told Macron that Ukrainians were using “human shields” and “behaving like Nazis”, just like Russian forces beat the city by Mariupol and Chernihiv. According to Elysée, Macron said closely to Putin, “You are telling your own stories” and said, “What you are telling me is out of line with reality and in no way justifies the violence of what you did today.”
On March 6, the last time the two spoke, the French President was forced to scramble after Russia said it would respond in kind. “Personal needs” from Macron and organize humanitarian corridors to get Ukrainian civilians out of the fierce fighting – but only to Russia.
Caught off guard by the media reports, the French president went on television to denounce the plan: “All this is not serious,” he said. “It’s moral and political skepticism, which I can’t stand.”
According to the Elysée Palace, Putin has agreed to Macron’s request to hold talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency to secure Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, but so far nothing has happened. .
While Macron’s outreach has drawn criticism, especially from the Nordic and Baltic countries heavily influenced by Russian aggression, officials at the Elysée Palace and Macron’s supporters insist that it is important for the two leaders to keep talking – especially as the West increases sanctions on Russia and sends weapons into Ukraine.
“It’s not very helpful, but we still have to, maybe some lives could be saved,” said Michel Duclos, a veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to Syria. “We must not give the impression that we are refusing to talk. With Putin increasingly isolated due to sanctions, we need to address this issue.”
In his diplomatic approach, Macron sometimes seems to be trying to make up for past mistakes – or earn some meager dividends from years of trying to engage with Russia.
Macron’s endorsement of Putin aligns with his other efforts on the global stage, including an attempt to keep Donald Trump in place as the then US president is taking a confrontational approach to the EU and making a Some questioned Washington’s commitment to NATO.
One of Macron’s former advisers said: “Macron has an obsession with Trump and Putin. “His point is that they need to feel considered.”
In addition to his visit to Versailles in 2017, the French president hosted Putin three times. He has been to Russia twice in 2018, but his first visit to Ukraine came only last month.
According to the French President and his supporters, Macron’s flirting with Putin is aimed at drawing Russia into the EU’s orbit and resolving the conflict on the EU’s doorstep. In 2019, Macron tell Putin he considers Russia a “deeply European country” with an important place in a Europe of shared values.
“His vision was that we had to provide Russia with an alternative to China,” said a former Macron aide. “That’s why he invited him to Versailles… He said we need to tie Russia to the West, to the openness of Europe, to the economy.”
And yet, Macron’s efforts sometimes give the impression that he is prioritizing his relationship with Moscow with the value of relations with his European partners. Duclos, a former French ambassador, said that the reception of the Russian leader at the presidential summer residence in the French Riviera to discuss security issues ahead of the 2019 G7 meeting in France did not take place. good.
“It is normal to invite foreign leaders to the Elysée… but the private residence of the French president is an intimate environment,” Duclos said. “He didn’t warn the Germans and other EU countries, so they were offended. And the topic he chose was to discuss a ‘new architecture of security’ [with Putin]so everyone is suspicious because for them it means NATO. And you don’t discuss NATO with Putin.”
Some have pointed out that Macron sometimes repeats Kremlin talking points, referring to Russia’s “contemporary hurts” or describing in 2019 the existence of a Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, a concept that Putin outlined in an article almost 10 years ago.
At one point, the French president appeared to have ignored his own foreign ministry, dressing down Diplomats accused them of protesting in a “deep state” of engagement with Russia. Many argue that Macron likes to listen to politicians who are nostalgic about France’s global influence in the past and too soft on Russia, such as former ministers Hubert Védrine and Jean-Pierre Chevènement.
“There was perhaps the temptation to think that we understood Russia’s intentions,” said Marie Dumoulin, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “We certainly underestimated the extent to which the Russians wanted to take control of Ukraine. There is an assumption of rationality, that invading Ukraine would be very expensive, and not a rational decision… But in Russia there is another rationality.”
According to Nicolas Tenzer, an expert on Franco-Russian relations at Sciences Po, Macron also missed the opportunity to draw red lines. He said: “Germany and France give the impression that they are pushing Ukraine to accept concessions during the renegotiation of the Minsk agreements in 2019. “Overall, it seems that France… is in favor of appeasement.”
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the scab fell from Macron’s eyes.
Putin doesn’t seem to be much attached to Macron. “One of the big difficulties with talking to Putin is that there is not much dialogue,” said a former French diplomat who was involved in negotiating the Minsk agreements in 2014.
He described conversations with the Russian President as one-sided. “Vladimir Putin will go back to the history of Russia, with his story about the great Russian empire and Stalin’s later communism. It’s terrible… He repeats more than he tries to convince. With him, your point of view doesn’t matter”.
Elysée’s accounts of conversations between the two leaders were accompanied by a line of pictures showed the French president unshaven, tense and focused as he spoke to his Russian counterpart, sparking speculation in Paris that he was playing a role in his domestic consumption ahead of the election. presidential election in April.
But allies of the president say the output is just an attempt to shape how the calls are perceived.
“We quickly present narratives of conversations, sometimes including verbatim [text] of exchanges [between Putin and Macron],’ said Anne Genetet, an MP for Macron’s La République En Marche party and representing French citizens living in Eastern Europe.
“We need to control the story to prevent the other side from giving an incorrect version,” she said.
After Macron’s failed attempt to bring Putin back to the brink of war, Official Elysee said that the French President had found a changed man in Moscow who had engulfed him in “long monologues” and “historical revisionism”. Russia watchers say that Putin always behaves like that – Macron just isn’t willing to accept it.
With the Russian military in Ukraine, Macron is now talking hard and pushing for tougher sanctions, almost to “make up for his past enthusiasm”, one civil servant said. France has backed sanctions including excluding banks from the SWIFT system, and has taken swift action at home, freezing Russian assets and seizing yachts belonging to close oligarchs. with Putin. The French president “has been in regular contact with all of his allies” throughout the crisis, said one of Macron’s advisers.
Macron is not the only leader talking to Putin. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Putin in Moscow last week and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also spoke with the Russian president.
But despite the heated briefings between the Elysée Palace and the Kremlin, Macron is unlikely to cut off talks with Putin anytime soon. The view in France is that the French President is the best person to keep the lines of communication open – even if he doesn’t have much to show for his endeavor so far.
According to a March 6 briefing by the Elysée, Macron was still talking about holding “negotiations that must take place between the Russians and the Ukrainians.”
“France must play this role; the country is a member of the United Nations Security Council and one of the most important European countries today is the UK has left the EU,” said a former low-level Foreign Secretary.
“I have faced a lot of crap in my day, but one thing I can tell you is that you always need to keep an open line of communication,” he added. “Because you never know when your opponent will want to find a way out.”
Maïa de La Baume contributed to reporting.
https://www.politico.eu/article/macron-putins-last-open-line-to-the-west/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication What the hell does Emmanuel Macron think he's playing with Vladimir Putin? - POLITICO