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'We must lower tensions' Macron takes soft-touch approach with Putin as pair meet


The French President, who arrived in Moscow on Sunday, said the goal of his visit is to “build historic solutions”, which he believes Mr Putin is open to. 135,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s border at the time of Monday’s meeting, and Mr Macron is to meet Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in Kiev on Tuesday.

Mr Macron told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper: “I have always been in deep dialogue with President Putin and our responsibility is to build historic solutions. I believe that President Putin is willing to do this.

“It is in this spirit that I am also going to Moscow: to try to build responses to the emergency and to move towards a new order that our Europe deeply needs and which is based on the cardinal principle of the sovereign equality of States.”

The French leader, who faces a presidential election in April, is taking a highly diplomatic approach by travelling to Kiev and Moscow without even a break in between.

He said: “We Europeans have to deal with the post-cold war period because we have friends, sovereign European states that built their independence thirty years ago and who live in the still contemporary memory of a traumatic relationship with Russia.

“We must therefore protect our European brothers by proposing a new balance capable of preserving their sovereignty and peace. This must be done while respecting Russia and understanding the contemporary traumas of this great people and nation.”

READ MORE: Macron skewered over previous failures to woo Putin ahead of visit

Mr Macron arrived in Russia just as the US warned an invasion could take place at any time, which it is predicted would result in the death of as many as 50,000 Ukrainian civilians and 25,000 soldiers.

Unnamed Washington officials claimed Moscow has established 70 percent of the military buildup it needs to launch a full-scale invasion of Kiev.

The officials laid out a series of indicators suggesting Mr Putin plans an attack in the coming weeks and that, although the size and scale are unclear, it could lead to millions of people fleeing into a refugee crisis for Europe.

Speaking of the potential invasion, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC on Sunday: “It could happen as soon as tomorrow or it could take some weeks yet.

“We’re in the window where something could happen. We believe the Russians have put in place the capabilities to mount a significant operation.”

Looking back at the seizure and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russo-Georgian War in 2018, Mr Macron said: “At that time, we were in the acute phases of military operations and we had to seek ceasefires or withdrawals.

“Here, for several weeks now, we have been observing not an invasion or an armed operation for which a ceasefire should be called, but an escalation of very strong tensions, a militarisation of the Ukrainian border on the Russian and Belarusian sides, land, air and naval means and multiple military exercises.

“In this context, our role is preventive, we must lower the tension through dialogue and avoid an armed conflict.”

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France, which currently holds a six-month presidency of the EU Council, is convinced that dialogue is the solution to the conflict, with Mr Macron saying: “The recent period has confirmed that when you decide not to talk, which was the choice of the Europeans last year when Chancellor Merkel and I proposed an EU-Russia summit, then you cannot solve any conflict. Because we then let others speak in our name and we cannot contribute to our collective security either.”

Though confident he and Mr Putin will reach an agreement for de-escalation, he claimed: “We have to be very realistic. We will not obtain unilateral gestures, but it is essential to avoid a deterioration of the situation before building mechanisms and reciprocal gestures of trust.”

The French president’s hopes to calm tensions in Russia follow countless attempts by others in the West to negotiate with the Kremlin.



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