Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine continue. After Hungarian President Viktor Orbán's recent visit to the Kremlin, it is now the turn of French leader Emmanuel Macron, who is travelling to Moscow with the aim of laying the foundations for a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis. The French leader is also seeking to establish Europe as a key player in the negotiations with Russia, a role largely claimed by Washington.
Macron was optimistic ahead of the trip, assuring that he can offer "a historic solution". In this line, the president proposes to establish "a new balance" to maintain peace and security in Europe, although he is also willing to listen to Russian concerns. Two sources close to the Elysée have told Reuters that Macron's aim is to "freeze the situation and buy time for diplomacy until April", a month in which several important elections will be held in European countries, such as Hungary, Slovenia and France itself, where there are fears of a rise of the extreme right.
Before his meeting with Putin, Macron has spoken with other European leaders on several occasions over the last two weeks to learn about the opinions and concerns of the different countries on the continent. He also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and with US and Ukrainian Presidents Joe Biden and Volodimir Zelensky.
During his speech to the European Parliament in January, Macron called for dialogue with Russia. He called for "frank and demanding" talks with Moscow. He also urged Europe to "build its own collective security framework". A week before Macron's plea for European 'strategic autonomy' in defence, direct talks were held between the US and Russia in which the EU did not participate.
In this sense, several European voices have denounced that the bloc "is being marginalised" in these negotiations, when Brussels should play a key role. This role has been called for by Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who stressed to elDiario.es that "nothing can be discussed about Europe without the European Union".
In this way, Macron will also try to place Europe within the talks with Moscow and Kiev, where he will travel tomorrow to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Zelensky. Previously, other international leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the British, Polish and Dutch prime ministers, Boris Johnson, Mateusz Morawiecki and Mark Rutte, have travelled to Ukraine to support the country's national sovereignty.
While diplomacy is being stepped up in Europe, the Biden administration maintains its warnings about a 'possible Russian invasion', an event that Washington has been predicting since late 2021. US reports based on satellite imagery indicate that Russia has accelerated its military movements towards the Ukrainian border. In response, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has warned that Russia could attack its neighbour "any day", initiating a conflict that would cause a "huge human cost with up to 50,000 civilian casualties".
"If war breaks out, it will have a huge human cost for Ukraine, but we believe that, based on our preparations and our response, it will also have a strategic cost for Russia," Sullivan said, adding that, in the event of a Russian invasion, Kiev would fall within 72 hours.
On Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price had an argument with Associated Press journalist Matt Lee after he asked for evidence of an alleged Russian operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine. According to Price, Moscow allegedly created propaganda videos showing fake NATO aggression to justify starting a conflict.
"If you doubt the credibility of the US government, the British government, other governments, and you want to find comfort in the information that the Russians are putting out, that's what you should do," Price told the journalist when asked for evidence.
The US statements are not going down well in Kiev, where they have been labelled "apocalyptic predictions". Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, urged people to ignore such predictions, saying the country has "a strong army" and "unprecedented international support". These words are in line with President Zelensky, who accused his US partners of fuelling panic.
While Macron is in Moscow, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is travelling to Washington on his first official trip to the United States since taking office in December 2021. During his meeting with Biden, the two leaders will discuss the "significant package" of sanctions they are preparing against Russia in case it invades Ukraine, according to the White House. These sanctions include suspending Nord Stream 2, a pipeline across the Baltic Sea that would greatly benefit Germany, a major European consumer of Russian gas.
Nord Stream 2 is one of the main disputes between Washington and Berlin, but not the only one. The US, as well as other NATO countries and Ukraine, has been displeased with Germany's decision not to send weapons to the Ukrainian army. This move has also caused divisions within Scholz's own cabinet.
"One can certainly expect Joe Biden to urge the German chancellor to take a tougher stance on Moscow," reports the German magazine Der Spiegel. The German media also claims that the head of the German government should be prepared for a call to order from Biden.
However, Scholz has reaffirmed before the trip that his decisions are aimed at "avoiding a war in Europe", defending Germany's policy of not supplying arms to conflict zones, which has been in force since the Second World War. The German chancellor, following in the footsteps of other European presidents, will travel to Moscow and Kiev early next week in a new diplomatic effort to ease tensions.
The Rzeszow military base in southeastern Poland near the Ukrainian border has welcomed the first US troops aimed at bolstering NATO and allied interests in Europe. "As announced, the first elements of the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division brigade battle group have arrived in Poland," a Polish military spokesman said.
The move follows Biden's decision to send nearly 3,000 additional troops to Poland and Romania to armour Eastern Europe. The first additional troops arrived in Germany on Friday. Moreover, according to the Pentagon, a Stryker squadron of about 1,000 US service members currently stationed in the German city of Vilseck will soon be sent to Romania.