Flurry of talks attempts to defuse Ukraine-Russia crisis

Several world leaders lined up on Monday to walk a diplomatic tightrope that could mean the difference between war in Ukraine and an uneasy peace there as Russia’s threatening actions along the border with its neighbor continue without released.

Here is an overview of the latest developments in the crisis:

From Moscow to Washington

Russian President Vladimir Putin was back in Moscow on Monday after his diplomatic foray to win support from China at the weekend Winter Olympics. Putin hosted his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who visited the Kremlin in an attempt to defuse tensions.

President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met at the White House to bolster Western resolve against what they see as Russian aggression against Ukraine. Biden explicitly named the pipeline project known as Nord Stream 2, which would bring additional Russian gas to Europe and could be certified by Germany to operate this summer. “There will be no more Nord Stream 2” if Russia invades Ukraine further, Biden said. Scholz did not mention the pipeline, but said Germany and the United States were “absolutely united” in their intention to impose punitive sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier that the United States and Europe remain united not only on the nature of the Russian threat against Ukraine, but also about the consequences Russia would face if it invaded. They also defended the increasingly grim warnings that a Russian invasion could be imminent.

Western estimates that more than 100,000 Russian troops have massed near Ukraine, raising fears that an offensive is days away.

At the same time, the borders of NATO countries close to Russia are also being reinforced. Germany, which is often accused of being too soft on Moscow, and Britain added to that effort on Monday and NATO itself also has plans.

France and Russia disagree, but more talks to come

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron concluded more than five hours of talks registering their disagreements but also stressing the need for further talks.

Putin noted that the United States and NATO ignored Moscow’s demands that NATO keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out, refrain from placing weapons there and roll back Eastern European alliance forces. However, he signaled his readiness to continue negotiations.

Putin mocked Western descriptions of NATO as a defensive alliance, saying sarcastically that “the people of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have learned this from their own experience.”

He warned that Ukraine’s NATO membership could trigger a war between Russia and the alliance.

“If Ukraine becomes a member of NATO and takes steps to reconquer Crimea, European countries will automatically be drawn into a military conflict with Russia,” Putin said. “You will be drawn into this conflict beyond your control. There will be no winners. »

Macron said he had a “substantial and thorough” discussion with Putin, emphasizing conditions that could help de-escalation.

“We tried to build convergent elements,” he said. “The coming days will be crucial and in-depth discussions together will be necessary.”

He added that it was Europe’s duty to find a solution to try to rebuild neighborly ties with Russia.

After the French movement, Germany steps up

France and Germany have worked in tandem before. Seven years ago, they played a vital role in creating a peace accord for eastern Ukraine aimed at ending fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists that erupted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Ukrainian officials have called the peace deal unworkable and divisive, but it has stifled fighting.

Germany has been criticized for being slow and timid in its approach to the Ukraine crisis, but on Monday Europe’s economic powerhouse acted on various fronts. As Scholz prepared for her meeting with Biden, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock held talks in Kyiv with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and was due to visit the “line of contact” with pro-Russian separatists in the capital on Tuesday. eastern Ukraine.

Germany’s show of solidarity comes amid tensions over Berlin’s refusal to send arms to Ukraine. But Baerbock said that “we defend – without ifs and buts – the territorial integrity of the country and alongside the Ukrainian people”.

Baerbock added that “together we will respond with tough and very concrete measures to any new Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

To show that the Franco-German diplomatic effort is far from over, Scholz will meet with Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis. This will allow the three leaders to compare notes after Scholz’s meeting with Biden and Macron’s trips to Russia and Ukraine.

More troops bolster NATO’s eastern front

Britain said it was sending 350 troops to Poland as part of efforts to bolster NATO forces in Eastern Europe amid a Russian military buildup near Ukraine. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the troops would join the 100 Royal Engineers already in Poland.

Germany has moved to send more troops to Lithuania, further bolstering its presence on NATO’s eastern flank, in a move that comes amid criticism of Berlin’s refusal to send weapons to Kiev. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said she would add up to 350 German soldiers to a NATO battlegroup she leads in the Baltic nation, where she already has some 500 soldiers.

Lambrecht said that with this decision, Germany “sent a very clear signal of unity to our allies. We can be counted on and we show it with this reinforcement of the battlegroup.

Scholz will host the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic states feeling the heat from Moscow, on Thursday before traveling to Ukraine and Russia next week.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said the alliance planned a more permanent military presence in southeastern Europe.

“We are looking at longer-term adjustments to our posture, to our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” Stoltenberg told reporters after talks with Poland’s Duda. “If Russia really wants less NATO near the borders, it gets the opposite.”

How will Europe find more gas?

To feel the warmth in winter, Europe is particularly dependent on energy supplies from Russia. The EU also complains that Moscow has not been available with additional gas shipments to Europe when the logic of the market, with its current exorbitant prices, would make it obvious.

More than 40% of Europe’s gas supplies come from Russia. Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said on Monday ahead of an EU-US energy meeting in Washington that “Russia has in the past used energy supplies at political purposes”. Now the 27-nation bloc desperately needs to diversify its gas sources and is finding a helping hand in Washington.

“The United States will do everything possible to help mitigate any disruption to Europe’s energy supply, and indeed we are already doing that,” Blinken said, adding that Washington is in talks with major producers and nations around the world.