French president Emmanuel Macron has signalled he will recognise Russian security concerns without abandoning support for Ukraine’s sovereignty when he meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday in the latest western attempt to persuade the Russian leader to “de-escalate” the crisis.
Macron, who has already spoken to Putin by phone three times in the past 10 days, outlined what he called a “realistic” approach to the threat of war as more than 100,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s borders.
“Russia’s geopolitical aim today is obviously not Ukraine but the clarification of the rules of how Moscow lives with Nato and the EU,” Macron said in an interview on Sunday with Le Journal du Dimanche.
“The security and sovereignty of Ukraine and of any other European nation cannot be compromised in any way, just as it is legitimate for Russia to raise the issue of its own security concerns.”
Macron, who is due to meet Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kyiv on Tuesday, said his aim was to prevent a Russian military operation that other western leaders have warned is “imminent”.
“The intensity of the dialogue we have had with Russia and this visit to Moscow are designed to stop that happening,” he said. “Then we will discuss the terms of de-escalation. We have to be very realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it’s essential to stop the situation deteriorating.”
Russia has denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week Monday’s talks with the French president would focus on security guarantees that Russia was seeking from the US, Nato and other western allies.
French officials said Macron was in constant communication with US president Joe Biden and other Nato allies and EU partners to ensure a united front over Ukraine, even though he was simultaneously pursuing his goal of a “new European security order” that would give the EU more responsibility for its own security.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the US was preparing for all scenarios, adding that a Russian invasion could happen at any moment, including a “contingency where Russian forces drive on the Ukrainian capital”.
“[An attack] could take a number of different forms. It could happen as soon as tomorrow or it could take some weeks yet. [Putin] has put himself in a position with military deployments to be able to act aggressively against Ukraine at any time now,” Sullivan told ABD News in a separate interview. But he stressed that a diplomatic solution remained on the table.
“We are ready if President Putin chooses to continue to engage in diplomacy and we are serious about that and we are ready to respond in a united, swift and severe way with our allies and partners should he choose to move forward with a military escalation,” he said.
One senior official in Paris, asked whether Macron was too accommodating towards Putin, said: “He doesn’t do it on his own behalf or in a manner that is isolated or secret . . . He [Putin] is the one who has made the threats so it’s with him that we must look for de-escalation.”