Macron helped ease Ukraine crisis

Washington, United States | Fri, February 11, 2022

The French president’s journey to Russia this week prompted a chorus of cautiously optimistic remarks about preventing an invasion of Ukraine, but the US has remained curiously silent on the diplomatic mission. Since President Emmanuel Macron met with President Vladimir Putin on Monday to try to resolve the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, US officials have remained mute or even expressed skepticism about what European countries have described as progress in averting war. Officials in the United States have openly questioned Macron’s claims that he had assurances from Putin that there will be no additional Russian aggression.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops, as well as a massive array of weaponry and other supplies, on the border with its pro-Western neighbor, prompting fears of an invasion by the United States and European countries. While major US news sites highlighted statements from the Kremlin that could temper France’s hopeful tone, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, “Certainly, if there was diplomatic progress, we would welcome that, but we will believe it when we see it with our own eyes at the border.”

The Pentagon claimed Russia continued to strengthen up its forces on the border the day following Macron’s visit, as if to belittle any promise Russia may have made to France. Moscow pushed its tanks across Belarus on Thursday for live-fire training, prompting NATO to issue an ominous warning. Six Russian vessels also passed through the Bosphorus on their way to the Black Sea and the adjacent Sea of Azov for planned naval drills.

Both activities have been denounced by Kyiv. Major military operations launched in Belarus by Belarusian soldiers and others from Russia, according to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, amount to “in our judgment, an escalation, not a de-escalation.”

Coordinated messages

At first, Washington remained fairly silent about Macron’s visit, claiming that it wanted to hear directly from the French president. That changed in part on Wednesday, when President Joe Biden spoke with Macron over the phone, and their foreign ministers did the same on Thursday. However, subsequent US declarations stated virtually little. The two leaders discussed Macron’s talks in Russia and Ukraine, according to a White House statement.

The State Department made no mention of Macron’s visit. “Joint efforts by NATO Allies, EU partners, G7 members, and other partners to address Russia’s persistent military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” it said in a statement. Nonetheless, the US argues that unprecedented coordination with its allies is taking place in current crisis, and French and other European diplomats readily agree: Biden and Macron have spoken on the phone three times in the last eight days.

“The US supports these initiatives because they allow for more messages to be sent to Moscow, as long as they are organized ahead of time and there is no dissonance among allies,” said Pierre Morcos, a French scholar at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Although “Paris attempts to emphasise the diplomatic option and invest everything it can in it,” Morcos added, “Western countries are unified in the prospect of heavy economic sanctions against Russia if it does attack Ukraine.” “For the time being, the US has offered cautious backing to Macron’s diplomatic efforts. However, suspicion is high, as Washington believes Putin is hell-bent on invading in any case “Celia Belin, a French scholar at the Brookings Institution in the United States, wrote about it.

“In contrast to the United States and other Western powers, Macron has stated that Russia is ‘legitimate’ in asserting that its security needs should be discussed,” Belin said in an essay published Thursday on the website of the magazine Foreign Affairs.

She explained that this represents France’s aim for a revitalized engagement with Russia as well as a retooling of Europe’s security architecture to be less reliant on the US. “Macron must step cautiously,” Belin added, “in order to avoid appearing to be building a wedge among friends at a time when unity is the best deterrence against Russia.”

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