“Take stock of the overall situation, obtain visibility and engage in a demanding dialogue.” Here is the objective of the telephone exchange between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Poutine, Friday morning, according to the very diplomatic terms of the tenant of the Elysée. The word “de-escalation” is not pronounced, but this is the issue of this phone call between the French and Russian presidents, about the high tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
Moscow is accused of massaging more than 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border, in view of a potential attack. In the event of an offensive, the Westerners threaten the Kremlin with heavy sanctions. Russia, for its part, is calling for a freeze on NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe and notably refuses Ukraine’s accession to the Atlantic Alliance. Franceinfo summarizes the different negotiation channels to calm the situation between Kiev and the Kremlin.
Between the United States and Russia: direct talks
In this crisis, the Kremlin is committed to negotiating directly with Washington. The Russian and American presidents spoke by telephone at the end of December. They pleaded for a diplomatic way, while maintaining their positions: any diplomatic progress will go through a “de-escalation” in Ukraine, warned Joe Biden, while the Kremlin demanded in return “results” on his requests.
These discussions then took the form of meetings in Geneva (Switzerland). On January 10, the US and Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers, Wendy Sherman and Sergey Ryabkov, met. “We explained to colleagues that we have no plans, no intention to attack Ukraine”, affirmed the Russian negotiator, justifying the presence of several tens of thousands of soldiers on the Ukrainian border by the deemed increased presence of NATO in Eastern Europe. Response from his American counterpart: Moscow could “prove he has no intention” to invade Ukraine “sending them back to their barracks” deployed soldiers.
Ten days later, still in Geneva, the heads of diplomacy of the two countries deliver an exchange “frank and substantial”, in the opinion of Antony Blinken. The American Secretary of State and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, claim to be “I agree that a reasonable dialogue is necessary” so that “the emotion falls”, according to the Russian. Nevertheless, he recalls “serious consequences” what would a rejection of “legitimate concerns” Russians, while Antony Blinken reiterates his desire to obtain proof that Russia does not wish to invade Ukraine.
Subsequently, the United States rejected, on Wednesday January 26, the Russian request to block Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
Between NATO and Moscow: a difficult exchange
For the first time since July 2019, the NATO-Russia council met on January 12 on the issue of tensions between Kiev and Moscow. This body had been weakened in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. In October, Russia’s diplomatic mission to NATO had even been withdrawn, eight members of its staff being suspected of espionage.
On January 12 in Brussels, “The discussion was not easy. The exchanges were direct on the situation in Ukraine and major differences were noted on security in Europe”, agreed Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, after a meeting with Alexander Grouchko, also Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“The conversation was very frank, but it revealed a lot of differences on fundamental issues.”Alexander Grushko, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
during a press briefing
Acknowledging that disagreements were difficult to overcome, Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to “engage in de-escalation”. “The risk of a new armed conflict is real. The way out of the crisis is incumbent on Russia”, he insisted.
Within the OSCE: a blockage during the negotiations
Following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, new negotiations were organized in Vienna (Austria) within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This platform for discussions between states in Europe, North America and Central Asia, brings together the United States and Russia around the same table.
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area has never been so intense in the last thirty yearssaid Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau. A major challenge for this organization whose aim is precisely to banish war from Europe.”
The meeting, however, ended in a deadlock between Russia and Western states. The Russian representative to the OSCE, Alexander Lukachevitch, denounced “lack of appropriate response” on their part to the demands of the Kremlin.
“It was all about their concerns and Russia’s so-called aggressive behavior. It’s clearly a disappointment.”Alexander Lukachevitch, Russian representative to the OSCE
following a meeting within the body on Ukraine
Within the so-called “Normandy” format: a signal of relaxation
Russian and Ukrainian diplomatic advisers then met in Paris on Wednesday, along with German and French mediators, to discuss the peace process. This meeting marks the return of the so-called “Normandy” format between Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Kiev, at the origin of a meeting in 2014, in Ouistreham (Calvados, Normandy), which was to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. The last meeting between advisers from the four states dates back to September 17, 2021.
“The objective was to send a signal of detente in a context with many questions about Russian intentions. We got a good signal in difficult conditions. The re-engagement we were looking for.”The Elysee
at the end of a meeting of the so-called “Normandy” format
In a joint communiqué, the negotiators affirmed their “unconditional respect for the ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine. “It’s important today, where everyone is wondering about Vladimir Putin’s intentions, and the possibility of destabilization that could occur in the Donbass or on the contact line”, underlined the Elysée. The press release is also the “first significant document on which we manage to agree since December 2019”, greeted the Ukrainian negotiator Andriï Iermak.
The Russian negotiator, Dmitry Kozak, however, recalled that the situation in eastern Ukraine and the tensions between Kyiv and Moscow on the border were “two different things”.
Between the European Union and Russia: a relationship at a standstill
The United States gave the EU “the assurance that nothing will be decided or negotiated without the Europeans”, assured Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on January 13. “The coordination with the Americans is absolutely perfect”, he insisted.
On the Russian side, the idea of a direct dialogue between Brussels and Moscow is not the Kremlin’s priority. The day after Josep Borrell’s statements, the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, spoke on this subject, notes RFI: “I don’t even know how the EU sees its participation in the security negotiations.”
“Do you want to know if it is possible to establish a channel with the EU on security issues, separate from the United States and NATO? Frankly, I do not know. United and NATO.”Sergei Lavrov, head of Russian diplomacy
at a press conference
“With NATO, at least, we still have on paper the structure of the NATO-Russia Council”, stressed the Russian Foreign Minister. Moscow was the subject of diplomatic sanctions by the EU in 2014 because of the crisis in Crimea. Almost a year ago, a visit by Josep Borrell to Moscow resulted in the announcement of the expulsion of three European diplomats from Russia, recalls The world. “The message confirmed by the Russian government during this disastrous visit is that it has no intention of dialogue with the EU”, wrote the daily.