French President Emmanuel Macron has told the Ukrainian government that Russian President Vladimir Putin has given him assurances that Russia will not further escalate tensions with Kyiv. The announcement by Macron comes as he does a diplomatic tour across Europe to prevent Russia from mobilizing its army and invading Ukraine. A claim that has been contested by the Russians themselves.
After his meeting with Putin, Mr. Macron flew to Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky, where the Ukrainian leader said, at the initial press conference of the meetings, that he believes “that every politician can be transparent by taking concrete steps.” A clear call on President Putin to reduce the tensions between both nations.
Earlier this Tuesday, the Russian government announced that the almost 30,000 troops it currently has stationed in Belarus for a joint military exercise, will return to Russia after the end of the exercise. However, the Kremlin has also mobilized a significant number of military ships to the Black Sea, a move that has awakened deep concerns among Western leaders that Russia will be able to launch a military operation against Ukraine shortly.
In response to the ongoing Russian mobilization near the Ukrainian border, which analysts have estimated has reached over 100,000 troops, Kyiv has announced extensive military exercises of their own beginning on February 10.
What happened in the Putin-Macron meeting? No one really knows
Both Russia and France have given conflicting explanations of what was achieved during the Macron-Putin talks. The French government has been fairly optimistic over its results, as Macron said not only that there could be “concrete solutions” to solve this crisis but that he personally “secured an assurance there would be no deterioration or escalation” from the part of the Russians over the Ukrainian crisis.
At first, Putin appeared to share some of the optimism of the French president, saying that the French proposals (which were not disclosed) “could form the basis of further joint steps.” However, despite this apparent optimism, the Kremlin has done its best to distance itself from the gleaming French optimisms. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said that Macron’s claims of a Russian assurance to not escalate were “not right.”
Furthermore, Peskov also said that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris could not make a deal. France is an E.U. and NATO member,” and that “France is not leading NATO.” Hinting that only the United States could acquiesce to Russian demands, however, the negotiations between Washington D.C. and Moscow have remained at a standstill as the U.S. considers Russia’s demands to be unacceptable.
Not only was Macron’s account of his meeting with Putin practically disavowed by the Kremlin, but it was also reported that the French President revealed to journalists in a plane back from Moscow that Ukraine could follow the model of “Finlandization” to deactivate the current crisis with Russia, a claim that has been denied by the French government.
“Finlandization” is a term that is often used to describe the unique political status of Finland during the Cold War. In 1948, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a treaty ensuring that the northern country would not be invaded by the Soviet Union in the case of a war with the west, in exchange, Finland would never join NATO and would allow Moscow to wield some significant influence in their foreign and domestic policy, albeit with Finland maintaining an independent government.
The use of this term has been highly controversial, not only because it would allow Moscow a heavy hand in the inner workings of the Ukrainian government (something that caused the famous 2014 Ukrainian revolution) but also because, as foreign policy expert Bruno Maçães pointed out, the period of Finlandization was also filled with abuses of power and media censorship.
The Russian mobilization near Ukraine has raised the prospects of a war that would potentially be the bloodiest Europe has seen since 1945, and American and European officials have warned that the next twelve days will be a critical point in this crisis. Whether Macron’s shutter diplomacy work remains unknown, however, what is clear is that the stakes could not be higher.