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Russia not an enemy? Macron's Moscow strategy faces first test



French President Emmanuel Macron this week faces the first major test of his policy of directly engaging with Russia which has upset some European allies as he hosts a summit seeking progress in ending the Ukraine conflict.

Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron will gather Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian colleague Volodymyr Zelensky for their first face-to-face meeting at an afternoon summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Monday.

The stakes are high: this will only be such a summit of three years, and while diplomats warn against expecting a major breakthrough, a failure to make an agreement with concrete confidence-building steps will be seen as a major blow to hope for peace and also Macron's personal prestige.

Macron, pushing ahead with the summit despite crippling strikes in public transport at home over disputed pension reforms, has invested tremendously in efforts to end the conflict in the east of Ukraine, which has claimed 1

3,000 lives since 2014.

 Macron has said that Russia Macron has said that Russia "is no longer an enemy" Photo: POOL / GERARD JULIEN

And he has also put his bets on a risky strategy to deal directly with Putin, based on the assumption that Russia will someday understand it is in the national interest to see Europe as its long-term strategic partner.

"It's an important test for Macron and for the Europeans," said Michel Duclos, a former ambassador and senior fellow at the Institut Montaigne, a French think tank.

"He is already very isolated. And if he does not achieve anything against Ukraine, he will be even more isolated," he added.

But he added that the Kremlin was "sincere enough" to understand that the summit had to be declared a success, and Putin was delighted with Macron's overtures when he "sees that a chance to divide Europeans".

 Macron stirred controversy last month by declaring that NATO was brain dead Macron sparked controversy last month by declaring that NATO was brain dead Photo: POOL / ludovic MARIN

Macron has adopted a an increasingly confident presence on the international stage in recent months, at a time when Germany is a less impressive diplomatic player as Merkel prepares to leave the post.

His thoughts were summarized in an explosive interview with The Economist last month, when he declared that NATO was brain dead and said Europe needed a strategic dialogue with Russia.

 French President Emmanuel Macron will host Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday as part of his new strategy to directly engage with Moscow French President Emmanuel Macron will host Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday as part of his new strategy to directly engage with Moscow Photo: POOL / GERARD JULIEN

Investigating Russia's long-term strategic alternatives under Putin, Macron said in the interview that Russia could not flourish in isolation, would not be a "vassal" of China and eventually had to choose "a cooperation project with Europe".

Macron in particular described ex-KGB agent Putin as a "child of St. Petersburg", the former Russian capital built by Peter the Great as a window to the West.

His comments disturbed recent EU members who did not take a tough line against their former champion Russia like the Baltic States and especially Poland. And they added a lot of tensions between France and Germany.

But following a summit with NATO leaders in England earlier this month, Macron was remorseful and categorical about his strategy of cultivating Russia.

"Who is NATO's enemy" Russia is no longer an enemy. It remains a threat, but is also a partner in some subjects. Our enemy today is international terrorism and especially Islamist terrorism, "he said.

A French diplomatic source claimed Russia could not forever establish its strategy of being a" disruptive force "with policies such as military intervention in Syria to hold the president Bashar al-Assad in power or its alliance with NATO member Turkey that has plagued the West.

"If he has the capacity to be a nuisance is your only lever, it is not a lasting and viable strategy," said the source , adding that there was also a "deep Russian concern about being caught up in a rivalry with China. "

Konstantin Kalachev, director of the Moscow-based political expert group, warned" it would be naïve to believe that Emmanuel Macron can exert any kind of influence on Vladimir Putin with a view to bringing Russia closer to the EU.

"There is only one person who can influence President Putin. And it is President Putin himself."

In a glimmer of hope for Macron, he added: "Mr. Putin has no interest in this (Ukrainian) conflict but he wants every solution to be worked out according to his conditions. "


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