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Macron heads to Russia and Ukraine in bid for diplomatic solution to crisis

French president Emmanuel Macron. File picture by Olivier Hoslet
Angela Charlton, AP

French president Emmanuel Macron will head to Moscow and Kyiv next week in an attempt to deter his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin from launching an invasion of Ukraine and to find a diplomatic solution to growing tensions.

The visit on Monday and Tuesday comes after the US accused the Kremlin of an elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action.

The US has not provided any detailed information to back up the claims.

While France is a major player in Nato and is moving troops to Romania as part of the alliance’s preparation for possible Russian action, Mr Macron has also been actively pushing for dialogue with Mr Putin and has spoken to him several times in recent weeks.

The two will hold a one-on-one meeting on Monday, Mr Macron’s office said.

Mr Macron is following a French tradition of striking a separate path from the United States in geopolitics, as well as trying to make his own mark on this crisis and to defend Europe’s interests.

But after weeks of talks in various diplomatic formats have led to no major concessions by Russia and the US, it is unclear how much impact his trip will have.

In a call on Wednesday with US president Joe Biden, Mr Macron filled him in on his diplomatic efforts.

In talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders on Thursday night, Mr Macron’s office said they discussed ways to “identify elements that could lead to de-escalation”, and “conditions for strategic balance in Europe, which should allow for the reduction of risks on the ground and guarantee security on the continent”.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising concern that Moscow might invade again, as it did in 2014.

The troop presence and uncertainty have unnerved Ukrainians and hurt the country’s economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.

Mr Putin, who is meeting with Chinese president Xi Jingping in Beijing on Friday as the Winter Olympics open, has been signalling an apparent readiness for more talks with Washington and Nato in recent days.

Some experts say that as long as Russia and the West keep talking, that is a reason for cautious optimism.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also offered to mediate talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile in Washington, US officials said a plan for a fake attack on Russian territory or Russian-speaking people was described in declassified intelligence shared with Ukrainian officials and European allies in recent days.

It was the latest example of the Biden administration divulging intelligence findings as a tactic to stop Russian disinformation efforts and foil what it says is Mr Putin’s attempt to lay the groundwork for military action.

In recent weeks, the White House has said that US intelligence shows Russia has launched a malign social media disinformation campaign against Ukraine and has dispatched operatives trained in explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.

The UK has also divulged intelligence findings that it says show Russia plotting to install a pro-Russian puppet government in Ukraine.

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