France's Macron Emerges as Key Figure in Russia Standoff

New 'Putin whisperer' will speak in person with leaders of Russia and Ukraine
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2022 9:25 AM CST
Russia Standoff May Hinge on New 'Putin Whisperer'
In this 2019 photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Fort of Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, France.   (Gerard Julien, Pool via AP, File)

Will Russia invade Ukraine and set off what could become the biggest land war in Europe since World War II? The answer might well depend on talks that take place this week with French President Emmanuel Macron as the focal point. Macron meets with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday and with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Tuesday. Coverage:

  • Macron's clout: The French leader has emerged as a key figure in the standoff, with the Wall Street Journal describing him as "filling a leadership void in Europe" since the retirement of Germany's Angela Merkel.
  • 'Putin whisperer': An analysis at CNN goes further, suggesting that Macron has replaced Merkel as the world's "Putin whisperer." The Russian leader appears to like and respect Macron—describing him as a "quality interlocutor," per the New York Times—and they have spoken by phone five times since mid-December.

  • Macron's view: The French leader has been pushing for Europe to have a more independent voice when it comes to such disputes, rather than relying on US-dominated NATO, per CNBC. He "wants to show European leadership—instead of kowtowing to the US—as he campaigns for reelection," according to analysts quoted in the piece. Still, Macron, who's up for reelection in April, spoke with President Biden on Sunday.
  • The talks: Macron sees hope for his Russian diplomacy, notes the BBC. "We will discuss the terms to de-escalate," he told a French outlet ahead of the trip, per CNBC. "One has to be realistic. We will not achieve unilateral gestures, but it is indispensable to avoid a degradation of the situation before we build mechanisms and gestures of reciprocal trust." Putin's spokesman put it this way, per the Times: "Of course, the situation is too complicated to expect some breakthroughs as a result of just one meeting. But we know, and Macron told Putin that he will bring some ideas that could help de-escalate tensions, and that he plans to share these ideas."
  • A worry: "There's always been a lingering suspicion that France plays solo, and may be too prone to concessions to Russia," French political scientist Bruno Tertrais tells the Journal.
(Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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