French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed hope that discussions with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could lead to easing of tensions over Ukraine, amid Western allegations that Moscow is preparing for an invasion of its neighboring country.
“This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is towards a de-escalation,” Macron told Putin at the start of the meeting in the capital Moscow on Monday, adding that he is seeking a “useful” response to the standoff over Ukraine.
“A useful response is a response that of course allows us to avoid war and to build bricks of trust, stability, visibility,” he said.
Putin, for his part, said Moscow and Paris share “a common concern” over the security situation in Europe, while acknowledging France’s efforts at solving the “security crisis” in Europe.
“I see how much efforts the current leadership of France and the president personally is applying in order to solve the crisis related to providing equal security in Europe for a serious historical perspective,” he said.
The two leaders are set to hold a press conference later in the day.
Macron’s visit to Moscow comes as relations between Russia and the West have hit a new low in recent weeks. The United States, its NATO allies, and Ukraine have accused Russia of amassing troops near Ukraine’s border for a possible invasion. Moscow rejects the allegation and insists that deployments are defensive in nature.
The US military has placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to prepare for deployment in Eastern Europe and bolster the NATO presence in the region. The US State Department has also approved shipments of US-made missiles and other weapons from NATO allies Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to Ukraine.
NATO members Britain and Poland have agreed to directly send arms to Ukraine, including handguns, ammunition, and anti-tank weapons.
The US and the European Union have threatened tough sanctions against the Kremlin in the event of an attack on or invasion of Ukraine.
On the eve of his trip to Moscow, Macron told the Journal du Dimanche, “The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU.”
On his arrival, Macron said he is “reasonably optimistic” but does not believe in “spontaneous miracles.”
Earlier in the day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in the course of one meeting,” adding that a “substantive and lengthy” discussion was expected.
Peskov underlined the importance of Macron’s visit in view of the fact that France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, adding that “Macron told Putin himself that he is coming with certain ideas to find possible options for defusing tensions in Europe.”
He also emphasized that Moscow had heard nothing new in recent days on the security guarantees it is requesting, adding that “our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic” and instead “they prefer to talk very passionately about the problem of the looming Russian attack on Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also due to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday to try to find a peaceful solution to the crisis over Ukraine.
American and Russian diplomats held talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine in January but failed to make a breakthrough. However, they agreed to continue the talks.
Russia has demanded legally binding guarantees from NATO that it will halt its eastward expansion and return to its 1997 borders. Moscow also demanded that the military alliance never admit Ukraine as a member.
However, the Kremlin says Russia’s main security demands have not been taken into account by the US after Washington delivered written replies to Moscow.