While most of the world shuns President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the few leaders who has maintained an open line of communication.
Macron’s diplomatic efforts to prevent war have failed, but he has not given up: The two men have spoken four times since Russian forces attacked Ukraine on February 24, and 11 times over the past month.
The French president, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, is now one of the few outsiders to have a view into Putin’s mindset at the time of the largest military invasion of Europe since World War II. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also became a mediator, meeting Putin on a surprise visit to Moscow on Saturday and speaking with him again by phone on Sunday.
Macron’s push for dialogue reflects France’s post-World War II tradition of carving its own geopolitical path and refusing to blindly follow the United States.
With Russian forces penetrating deep into Ukraine, Macron’s determination to maintain channels of communication with Putin provides Western allies with insight into the Russian president’s state of mind and intentions on the battlefield and at home in Russia while the Kremlin suppresses its opponents.
said Benjamin Haddad, senior director for Europe at the Atlantic Council in Paris and a member of Macron’s party.
After one phone call, an official at the Elysee presidential palace said the two leaders are addressing each other through translators with the familiar French word “you” – “tu” – rather than the official word “vos”.
Haddad said Macron also spoke to Putin on behalf of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, trying to extract some mercy from Putin: a local ceasefire, safe passage for trapped civilians, and humanitarian access.
Instead of mercy, the French president on Monday denounced Moscow’s “cynicism” after a new pledge to create humanitarian corridors from some Ukrainian cities under fire – with most of the routes to Russia or its ally Belarus, serving as a springboard for Russia. Invade.
Macron said in an interview on LCI TV that saying that “we will protect people by bringing them to Russia” is “hypocrisy”.
During the last call on Sunday that came at Macron’s request, the French president and Putin focused for nearly two hours on the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear plants.
Putin said he had no intention of attacking them and agreed to the principle of “dialogue” between the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ukraine and Russia on the issue, according to a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the French presidency. practices.
“There is absolutely no illusion at the Elysee that Putin will keep his word about anything he promises,” Haddad said, or that Putin will change his mind about the invasion. But Haddad said it was important for Macron to keep trying to engage Putin even as the West punishes Russia and bolsters Ukraine’s defenses.
In violation of the diplomatic norm of keeping such talks secret, the French presidency has widely shared the content of Macron’s conversations with Putin. Advisers to Macron and the president himself detailed the painstaking efforts to prevent war and then exposed Putin’s broken promises of peace.
That helped Macron garner support for the toughest sanctions against Russia, unite the 27 badly divided European Union, and revive NATO’s geopolitical role.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken heads to Paris on Tuesday to hear directly from Macron about his recent talks with Putin. But US officials remain unconvinced that the efforts of Macron – or any other leader – have had any significant impact on Putin’s decision-making process.
The French president was clear from the start: Putin alone is responsible for the death and destruction in Ukraine and the major consequences of the war for France and Europe. But on the other hand, if Putin wants to talk, he will listen.
Putin called on Thursday. The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has already exceeded one million and several towns in the east have been destroyed. Macron responded and they spoke for 90 minutes.
A French presidential official rushed to brief reporters on the conversation. Putin told Macron that the military operation in Ukraine “is going according to plan” and will continue “until the end,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Putin claimed that the Ukrainians had committed “war crimes”. Putin said he called them “Nazis,” and Putin said there was no need to negotiate, and he would achieve “the neutralization and disarmament of Ukraine” with his army.
The official said Macron “told the truth” to Putin, explaining how the West views his war on Ukraine. I asked him to stop the attacks on Ukraine. At this point, he refuses,” Macron tweeted.
He said the dialogue would continue. “We must prevent the worst from happening.”
I spoke to President Putin this morning. He refuses to stop his attacks on Ukraine at this point. It is necessary to maintain dialogue to avoid human tragedy. I will continue my efforts and contacts. We must avoid the worst.
– Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 3, 2022 Since being elected president in 2017, Macron has shown a keen interest in establishing personal relationships with world leaders.
“Macron stands out among EU leaders with his desire to be in the spotlight, to push foreign policy and move things forward,” said Silvia Colombo, an expert on EU foreign relations at the International Institute in Rome.
There is no other foreign leader that Macron has approached more closely than Putin. Macron was confident that a combination of personal charm and the splendor of France’s past would convince Putin to keep Russia in the home of European security.
Macron first hosted Putin at Versailles in 2017. Two years later they discussed stalled Ukraine peace talks at Macron’s summer residence on the French Riviera as Macron tried to build on European diplomacy that helped ease hostilities in the past.
It has become clear over the past several weeks that Putin was on the path to war although he denied it, sitting across from Macron at a very long table during his recent visit to Moscow.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Macron wanted to believe him after critics claimed the French president had fallen into the old European trap of appeasing Putin’s Russia.
“The president is not naive,” said Le Drian on the eve of the Russian invasion. He knows the styles, personality and cynical nature of Putin. ”