While most of the world has shunned Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the few leaders who has maintained open lines of contact.
Macron’s diplomatic attempts to avert the conflict failed, but he isn’t giving up: the two men have talked four times since Russian military struck Ukraine on February 24, and 11 times in the last month.
The French president, whose nation currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is now one of the few outsiders with insight into Putin’s thoughts at the time of Europe’s greatest military invasion since World War II. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is also stepping into the role of mediator, visiting Putin on a surprise visit to Moscow on Saturday and speaking with him over the phone again on Sunday.
Macron’s unwavering commitment to dialogue recalls France’s post-World War II legacy of forging its own geopolitical course and refusing to follow the US blindly.
Macron’s determination to preserve communication lines with Putin as Russian soldiers advanced far into Ukraine is offering Western allies with insight into the Russian leader’s state of mind, his objectives on the battlefield, and at home in Russia as the Kremlin cracks down on opponents.
“He’s leaving a diplomatic route open for the West in case Putin wants to de-escalate and find a way out of this crisis,” said Benjamin Haddad, a senior director for Europe at the Atlantic Council in Paris and a Macron supporter.
Macron has also talked to Putin on behalf of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to Haddad, in an attempt to elicit some concessions from Putin, including local cease-fires, safe passage for stranded populations, and humanitarian supplies.
Macron and Putin spoke for over two hours about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors during their most recent call on Sunday, which occurred at Macron’s request.
According to a French official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with the French presidency’s procedures, Putin stated that he does not plan to attack them and agreed on the notion of “conversation” between the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ukraine, and Russia on the matter.
Haddad said there is “absolutely no delusion” at the Elysee that Putin would follow his word on anything he pledges, or that Putin will reconsider the invasion. Haddad, on the other hand, believes it is critical that Macron continue to try to engage Putin even while the West punishes Russia and strengthens Ukraine’s defenses.
The French president has extensively disclosed the details of Macron’s meetings with Putin, breaking with diplomatic tradition of keeping such conversations private. Macron’s aides and the president himself outlined the arduous attempts to avoid conflict, then exposed Putin’s unfulfilled peace commitments.
This helped Macron rally support for the strongest penalties against Russia, unifying the EU’s 27 members and reinvigorating NATO’s geopolitical position.
To the degree that keeping lines of communication open during a crisis might be valuable for relaying messages, warnings, or threats and hearing the reaction, the Biden administration believes that such connections can also be useful for gaining insight into Putin’s attitude, manner, and cognition. As a result, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will go to Paris on Tuesday to hear directly from Macron about his recent talks with Putin.
However, US officials are skeptical that Macron’s — or any other leader’s — efforts have had a major influence on Putin’s decision-making. They point out that, despite many interventions by French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin has not only carried out the invasion but also escalated the conflict.
From the beginning, the French president has been clear: Putin is solely responsible for the dead and damage in Ukraine, as well as the war’s main implications for France and Europe. Putin, on the other hand, will listen if he wants to chat.
Putin made a phone call on Thursday. The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine had surpassed one million, and numerous towns in the east had been destroyed. Macron took up the phone and the two had a 90-minute conversation.
A French administration official hastened to update media on the discussion. According to the person, Putin informed Macron that the military operation in Ukraine is “going according to plan” and that he will continue “till the finish.”
Ukrainians, according to Putin, are committing “war crimes.” The official stated that he referred to them as “Nazis.” Putin stated that there is no need to negotiate. With his army, Putin will achieve Ukraine’s “neutralization and disarmament.” According to Elysee protocol, the official could not be named.
According to the official, Macron “spoke the truth” to Putin, explaining how the West views his assault on Ukraine. “I had a conversation with President Putin. I requested that he refrain from attacking Ukraine. Macron tweeted, “At this moment, he refuses.”
He stated that the conversation will continue. “We must avoid the worst-case scenario.”
Macron has showed a significant interest in developing personal relationships with foreign leaders since his election as president in 2017, particularly those that appreciate pragmatism when addressing democracy and human rights while pursuing financial prospects.
In December, his pro-business diplomacy paid dividends when he sealed a multibillion-euro arms contract with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan. After the execution of writer Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, Macron attracted harsh criticism for visiting to Saudi Arabia and becoming the first Western leader to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Among European Union leaders, Macron stands out for his eagerness to be in the limelight, to drive foreign policy, and to move things forward,” said Silvia Colombo, an EU foreign relations expert at the International Institute in Rome.
Macron has attempted to get no other foreign leader closer to his side than Putin. Macron, a firm believer in European security, believed that a combination of personal appeal and the beauty of France’s past would persuade Putin to maintain Russia within the European security environment.
Macron hosted Putin for the first time in the opulent Place de Versailles in 2017. Two years later, in Macron’s summer villa at the Fort de Bregancon on the French Riviera, they addressed the delayed Ukraine peace talks, as Macron attempted to build on prior European diplomacy that had helped calm tensions.
While sitting opposite from Macron at a large table during Macron’s previous visit to Moscow, it became evident that Putin was on the war route even as he denied it.
After opponents argued Macron had fallen into the familiar European trap of accommodating Putin’s Russia, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Macron wanted to trust him.
On the eve of Russia’s invasion, Le Drian declared, “The president is not naïve.” “He is familiar with Putin’s techniques, personality, and cynicism.”