French President Emmanuel Macron flies to Moscow on Monday in a risky diplomatic move, seeking pledges from Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce tensions with Ukraine, where Western leaders fear the Kremlin is planning an invasion.
Macronhas made a frantic series of phone calls with Western allies, Putin and the Ukrainian leader over the past week. He will follow up on Tuesday with a visit to Kiev and invest a lot of political capital in an assignment that could prove embarrassing if he returns empty-handed.
“We are on our way to Putin’s lair, in many ways it’s a roll of the dice,” a source close to Macrontold Reuters said.
Russia has gathered about 100,000 troops near Ukraine and demanded NATO and US security guarantees, including that NATO never accept Ukraine as a member.
Two sources close to Macronsaid one purpose of his visit was to buy time and freeze the situation for several months, at least until a “superapril” with elections in Europe – in Hungary, Slovenia and, crucially for Macron, in France.
The French leader, who has gained a reputation for much-publicized diplomatic outbursts since seizing power in 2017, has both sought to persuade and confront Putin over the past five years. His efforts have led to a close dialogue with the Russian leader as well as painful setbacks.
Shortly after his election, Macron rolled out Putin’s red carpet at the Palace of Versailles, but also used the visit to publicly condemn Russian interference in the election. Two years later, the couple met at the French president’s summer residence.
But Macron’s many moves did not prevent Russian encroachment on traditional French spheres of influence in Africa, culminating at the end of last year with the arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali. French officials believe they are being supported by the Kremlin.
Eastern European countries that suffered for decades under Soviet rule have criticized Macron’s cooperative stance on Russia, questioning Macron’s talk of negotiating a “new European security regime” with Russia.
To counter critics ahead of the trip and put on the mantle of European leadership in this crisis, Macron has made efforts to consult with other Western leaders this time, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.
The French president’s visit to Moscow and Ukraine comes less than three months before a home presidential election. His political adviser sees a potential election, although Macron has not yet announced whether he will run.
“For the president, it is an opportunity to show his leadership in Europe. That he is over the battle,” said a French government source.