Top French & German leaders to visit Russia, Ukraine amid tension

Top French & German leaders to   visit Russia, Ukraine amid tension

Paris: The French president and the German chancellor will head to Moscow and Kyiv in the coming weeks, adding to diplomatic efforts to try to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching an invasion of Ukraine and find a way out of the growing tensions.

France's Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to visit Moscow on Monday and Kyiv on Tuesday, while Germany's Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv on Feb. 14 and Moscow on Feb. 15.

The high-level visits come as China has backed Russia's demand that NATO be precluded from expanding to Ukraine, and after the U.S. accused the Kremlin on Thursday of an elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action.

The U.S. has not provided detailed information backing up the claims, which Moscow has vehemently denied.

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, Macron has also been actively pushing for dialogue with Putin and has spoken to him several times in recent weeks. The two will hold a one-on-one meeting Monday, Macron's office said Friday.

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 defend Europe's interests. Germany has emphasized the importance of various diplomatic formats in tackling the tensions and has refused to send weapons to Ukraine, irking some allies. Scholz also has faced criticism at home lately for keeping a low public profile in the crisis.

After weeks of talks in various diplomatic formats have led to no major concessions by Russia and the U.S., it's unclear how much impact the trips will have. But Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday that top-level visits seriously reduce challenges in the sphere of security and upset the Kremlin's plans.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a call with Kuleba Friday to discuss the Russian military buildup and steps to encourage Russia to pursue diplomacy over war and ensure security and stability.

Blinken reaffirmed the U.S. and its allies' willingness to impose swift and severe consequences on Russia if it chooses to escalate, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

In a call Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Macron filled him in on his diplomatic efforts. In talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders Thursday night, 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.

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