Macron heading to Russia, Ukraine next week

Although Ukraine has sought to play down the risk of an invasion, tensions are running high after the US Pentagon said Thursday it had evidence of a plan by Moscow to film a fake Ukrainian attack on Russians to justify a real assault

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PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Moscow and Kyiv to meet his counterparts early next week, his office said on Friday, in the highest profile effort by a Western leader to deescalate the Ukraine crisis.

Macron will go to Russia on Monday to meet President Vladimir Putin and to Ukraine on Tuesday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The French president, who has called for a deescalation in the crisis, has over the last days repeatedly held telephone talks with Putin and Zelensky as well as talking to US President Joe Biden.

His office had said late Thursday after Macron’s latest talks with Putin and Zelensky that the discussions sought “to identify the elements that should lead to a deescalation”.

In a possible nod to Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion and US military presence in eastern Europe, it said exchanges had started on the “strategic balance” in Europe, which should make it possible to see “a reduction in the risks on the ground and guarantee security”.

Western powers have been engaged in intense diplomatic efforts over the last weeks over the build-up of some 100,000 Russian troops close to the border with its pro-EU neighbour raised fears it was planning a new invasion of Ukraine.

Although Ukraine has sought to play down the risk of an invasion, tensions are running high after the US Pentagon said Thursday it had evidence of a plan by Moscow to film a fake Ukrainian attack on Russians to justify a real assault.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also indicated he plans to visit Russia soon although the timing is not immediately clear.

The French president has over the last years maintained that Europe must keep channels open to talk with Russia.

He has insisted that a “demanding dialogue” is preferable to open confrontation with Moscow in a fast-changing world dominated by the rise of China.

Macron paid his only visit to Russia as president in May 2018 to attend the Saint Petersburg economic forum and meet Putin.

His last face-to-face meeting with the Russian president dates back to a summit in summer 2019 at his residence in the south of France. A planned visit to Moscow in May 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic.

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