Following their high-stakes meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia rejected the notion that they had made significant headway in defusing the Ukraine situation.
Several statements by Russian leaders appeared to undermine French diplomatic authority, and even credibility, at a time when Mr. Macron was about to arrive in Ukraine to continue his shuttle diplomacy, with 130,000 Russian troops stationed just outside the country’s borders and the White House warning that a military attack on the country was possible.
As soon as Mr. Macron’s plane touched down in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, Dmitri S. Peskov, Russia’s chief press secretary, dismissed reports that the two presidents had reached an agreement to de-escalate the situation, arguing that it was the United States, rather than France, that possessed the necessary diplomatic leverage.
Furthermore, Mr. Macron expressed dissatisfaction with news reports quoting French officials as saying that Mr. Macron had left Moscow with commitments that Russian troops would not remain in neighbouring Belarus after military exercises concluded this month and that Russia would not conduct any new military manoeuvres near Ukraine in the near future.
Mr. Peskov said that the deployment to Belarus was always supposed to be temporary, but that Russia gave no commitment as to when it would come to an end. Russian officials confirmed on Tuesday that naval units had been moved to the Black Sea near Ukraine, but they refused to comment on the allegation of fresh drills.
A five-hour, one-on-one meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Macron took place in the Kremlin on Monday night, followed by an extended joint press conference that lasted far past midnight. Mr. Putin’s words alternated between being foreboding and being almost cheerful, while being cryptic enough to leave the rest of the world wondering.
“Several of his ideas or recommendations — which it is perhaps too early to discuss — I believe are doable in terms of laying the groundwork for our next steps,” he said of Mr. Macron’s plans for the country’s future. However, if Ukraine decides to join NATO, he has threatened that war would erupt, and he has not ruled out an invasion, despite the fact that the Kremlin has said that such an invasion is not in the works.
“You must not underestimate the intensity that surrounds the crisis that we are now experiencing, nor its unparalleled character,” Mr. Macron said at a meeting with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on Tuesday in Kyiv. The fact is that I do not think this situation can be resolved in a few hours of deliberation.”
Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Putin was willing to continue negotiations on Russia’s security needs in Eastern Europe, but added that “so far, we have not seen or felt the willingness of our Western colleagues to take our concerns into consideration.” In response to Russian requests that NATO’s expansion into portions of Eastern Europe that Moscow regards to be part of its sphere of influence halt, the United States and NATO have categorically rejected such demands.
As part of his diplomatic approach, Mr. Macron stressed that resolving Russia’s worries about NATO and its presence in Eastern Europe was just one side of the overall strategy he was pursuing. More potential was seen in the second proposal, which sought to resolve the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels in two breakaway eastern Ukrainian regions under the so-called Normandy Format. Negotiators from France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia are due to meet again in Berlin this week to try to iron out differences over the terms of a 2015 cease-fire deal, which was signed in 2015.
In an interview with RT, Mr. Zelensky expressed optimism about the upcoming Berlin meeting, though he said he had not yet seen any indication that Russia was willing to end its occupation of Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized in a 2014 invasion, or withdraw Russian troops from the eastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas. Ukraine has said that a Russian pullout is a precondition for any agreement to be reached.