Sunday, April 2

Intense diplomatic hustle and bustle to avoid conflict over Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron meets on Monday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz in Washington with US President Joe Biden to try to lower the tension in the crisis around Ukraine.

Macron, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Monday afternoon and after the meeting with Putin, both presidents will give a joint press conference, the Elysee said.

For their part, this Monday, the German, Czech, Slovak and Austrian foreign ministers travel to Kiev, which on Sunday toned down US forecasts that Moscow is intensifying its preparation for a large-scale incursion into Ukraine.

US officials say Russia has deployed 110,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, but intelligence assessments have not determined whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to invade.

They noted that Russia is on track to amass a force of some 150,000 troops for a full-scale invasion in mid-February.

This could take the capital Kiev in 48 hours, in an operation that could kill up to 50,000 civilians, 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 10,000 Russian soldiers, unleashing a wave of up to five million refugees, intelligence officials added.

In addition to the potential human cost, Ukraine fears further damage to its battered economy.

Russia is seeking assurances from NATO that Ukraine will not join the alliance and wants the North Atlantic bloc to withdraw its forces from Eastern European member states.

Moscow denies it intends to invade Ukraine, and a Kiev presidential adviser said the chances of a diplomatic solution are “substantially greater than the threat of further escalation.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sought to defuse tensions, saying on Twitter: “Don’t believe doomsday predictions. Different capitals have different scenarios, but Ukraine is ready for any development.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU), will visit Moscow on Monday and Kiev on Tuesday to try to ease tensions.

He is expected to push through a stalled peace plan for the long-standing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The trip will be a political gamble for Macron, who faces re-election in April.

Also on Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet US President Joe Biden in Washington.

“We are working hard to send a clear message to Russia that it will have to pay a high price if it intervenes in Ukraine,” Scholz told the Washington Post in an interview.

In turn, Biden offered 3,000 soldiers from his country to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank, and part of the contingent arrived in Poland on Sunday.

But Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told Fox News on Sunday that the president “is not sending forces to start a war or wage a war with Russia in Ukraine.”

“We send forces to Europe to defend NATO territory,” he clarified.

Scholz assured on Sunday that Berlin is prepared to send more soldiers to the Baltic countries, in addition to the 500 already in Lithuania with a NATO operation.

Meanwhile, his foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, will visit Kiev with her Czech, Slovak and Austrian counterparts for two days.

Scholz will be in Moscow and Kiev next week for talks with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky.

burs / gd / har / mtp / ssy / mas / zm