Flurry of talks leads to ‘progress’ towards defusing the Ukraine crisis

Hopes rose on Wednesday that efforts to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine might be paying off, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz joining Kiev and Moscow in a chorus of “positive” voices estimating that diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis could succeed.

Facing the worst standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War, diplomacy has taken off in force, taking French President Emmanuel Macron to Kiev and Moscow earlier this week.

After separate talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky, Macron said on Tuesday he had hinted at a way forward toward easing tensions.

He said the Russian president had told him that Moscow “will not be the source of an escalation.”

While the West accuses Russia of massing 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that “diplomacy continues to lower tensions”.

“The way in which the larger European community responds to this crisis will determine the future of European security and the future of each individual European country,” he said.

More optimistic voices also emerged from Moscow, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that “there were positive signs that the solution to Ukraine could depend only on the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements,” which ended the worst fighting of 2014 between Ukraine and Russia. backed separatists.

Schulz, who has been heavily criticized in his country for his hesitant response to the Ukraine crisis, said he saw “progress” after a series of talks at various levels.

“The task is to ensure security in Europe, and I think that will come true,” he added after meeting Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

‘consequences’

On Wednesday, Macron briefed his US counterpart, Joe Biden, on his talks with Putin and Zelensky, the White House said.

As diplomatic efforts intensify, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby warned that Putin continues to send troops to the border.

“We have continued to see, even over the past 24 hours, additional capabilities flowing from elsewhere in Russia to those borders with Ukraine and Belarus,” he told reporters.

But Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Jana Maliar, said that Russian forces on the border do not appear ready for an all-out offensive, and are instead being used primarily for “political pressure and blackmail” at this point.

Schulz, who is due to meet Baltic leaders on Thursday, is speeding up his diplomatic pace to reassure allies that Germany will not be the weakest link among allies against Russia.

Less than 24 hours after a trip to Washington, late Tuesday Schulz stood by Polish leader Andrzej Duda and Macron to proclaim the unity of Europeans in their goal of avoiding war.

Schulz, who took over from Angela Merkel in December, has been struggling to emerge from behind the veteran leader’s shadow.

Loud voices discussing the Western response, including within his Social Democratic Party, have at times drowned him out, leading critics to question Germany’s resolve in the crisis.

Schulz will travel to Kiev and then Moscow next week, where he will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Putin.

Britain has also intensified its moves, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Moscow on Wednesday delivering the message that Russia must choose a peaceful path in Ukraine or face “serious consequences” from Western sanctions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit Poland on Thursday after Britain promised to send an additional 350 soldiers to Poland’s border with Belarus.

concessions

Putin, who has demanded comprehensive security guarantees from NATO and the United States, said after his talks with Macron that Moscow would “make every effort to find compromises that suit everyone”.

He said many of Macron’s proposals could “form the basis for further steps” on easing the crisis over Ukraine, but he did not elaborate.

At the same time that Putin has sent his military to Ukraine’s borders, he has issued demands that the West says are unacceptable, including preventing Ukraine from joining NATO and rolling back coalition forces in Eastern Europe.

The French presidency said that Macron’s counter-proposals included the two sides’ engagement not to take any new military action, the start of a strategic dialogue, and efforts to revive the peace process for the Ukraine conflict.

It also said the agreement would ensure the withdrawal of about 30,000 Russian soldiers from Belarus at the end of joint military exercises later this month.

The Kremlin insisted that it never intended to leave troops permanently on Belarusian soil.

The West faces the difficult task of persuading the cautious Zelensky to accept any concessions.

Kiev has drawn up three “red lines” that it pledges not to cross – no compromise on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, no direct talks with separatists and no interference in its foreign policy.

(AFP)

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