Struggle for security in Europe

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A Ukrainian soldier walks through a destroyed warehouse on the front line in Donetsk region. © Vadim Ghirda/AP/dpa

Putin still feels that his French colleague Macron understands him best in the conflict with the West. In the Ukraine crisis, both are working on a solution. But their meeting is about more.

Moscow – In these times of crisis between Russia and the West, French President Emmanuel Macron is a welcome guest in the magnificent Kremlin Palace with his colleague Vladimir Putin.

The 69-year-old Putin has valued the 44-year-old Macron for five years not only as a mediator – alongside Germany – in the Ukraine conflict. The Kremlin boss always has an open ear when it comes to Russia’s interests in Europe. When the two meet again in person for the first time this Monday after three crisis calls, it should be about reducing tensions in Europe.

Putin should particularly like the fact that Macron first visits him in Moscow and only then travels to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) will again visit Kiev next week, then Moscow. There was too little dialogue with Russia last year, Macron said in an interview before his departure. Russia’s current confrontation is not about Ukraine, “about clarifying the rules of cooperation with NATO and the EU”.

Moscow complains about threat from NATO

At a recent meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow, Putin complained that NATO, the United States and the West were not taking Russia’s concerns about its own security seriously. Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently said that everyone in the West is concerned with Ukraine’s interests – but nobody in the West with Russia’s security concerns. Moscow has repeatedly emphasized that it sees itself threatened by NATO and US arms in Europe.

Macron should once again hear from Putin that Moscow would not accept Ukraine’s admission to NATO without resistance. Putin has recently made it clear several times that what is at stake here is nothing less than a new security architecture for Europe.

Seen in this way, the deployment of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine is seen primarily as muscle flexing, with which Moscow is emphasizing its demands for security guarantees. The Kremlin has been denying allegations by the United States that it is actually preparing for an attack on Ukraine for weeks. Russian state media said the US was frightening the world with its hysterical warnings of war. A visit by Macron to Putin could do a lot to ease the tension, it said.

Uniform announcement to Moscow wanted

Before Macron’s trip, the Élysée Palace emphasized the close coordination with the EU partners, above all Chancellor Scholz. Macron phoned US President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and several times with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It is about a uniform, coordinated announcement to Moscow with clearly defined consequences in the event of aggression, it said in Paris.

Macron’s intensive mediation in the crisis coincides with the start of the hot phase of the presidential election campaign in France, and he has not yet declared his expected candidacy for a second term. But a visit to Moscow as a crisis manager shouldn’t hurt, even if no breakthroughs are to be expected. Macron wants to campaign in Moscow for a revival of the peace plan for eastern Ukraine negotiated with the help of Germany and France.

The President said that a lot had already been achieved through the dialogue in the past few days so that the situation would not escalate any further. Macron said he wanted to find answers to the acute situation in Moscow, but also to move in the direction of a new order that Europe urgently needs, based on the principle of state sovereignty.

From Moscow’s point of view, the answers are clear: we don’t want a war, that’s what everyone in the Kremlin is saying. But after years of eastward expansion, NATO cannot trample on Russia’s interests either, as Minister Lavrov once put it.

Putin with diplomatic “shock therapy”

Putin’s catalog of demands for more security in Europe, which has attracted a lot of attention from the US and NATO, has been rejected in the main points. However, the Russian political scientist Dmitri Trenin said in a round of talks at the Moscow think tank Carnegie Center that Putin had achieved a lot with this diplomatic “shock therapy”. Above all, there is again a dialogue between Russia, NATO, the USA and the EU.

According to Trenin, no one in Moscow seriously believed that NATO would withdraw from Eastern Europe and its 1997 positions, as Putin had demanded. The fact that Russia’s concerns are now being addressed in the West is an important diplomatic success. Trenin is convinced that the USA will not risk war over Ukraine – and that NATO will not take the country either.

Carnegie expert Andrei Kolesnikov said that Russia’s fear-mongering is primarily aimed at gaining respect. But Putin cannot gain anything by shedding blood; there is no mobilizing effect in society. Rather, the invoked danger of war and the threat of sanctions from the West alone exacerbated the economic problems in Russia. “The rating can no longer be improved with war.” dpa

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