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France's President Emmanuel Macron's dual meetings with Vladimir Putin Monday in Moscow and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky Tuesday in Kyiv aimed at finding common ground that could help de-escalate tensions in the region. So what is the French president's vision for solving this crisis? Philippe Etienne, France's ambassador to the U.S., joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.
We return to the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-generated crisis over Ukraine and the expansion of NATO.
Nick Schifrin has more.
French President Emmanuel Macron's dual meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday in Moscow and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky today in Kyiv aimed to find common ground that could help de-escalate tensions in the region.
So, what is the French president's vision for solving this crisis?
For that, we turn to Philippe Etienne, France's ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
Do you believe, after President Macron's visits to Moscow and Kyiv, that we are on the path of de-escalation and diplomacy?
Philippe Etienne, French Ambassador to the United States: Thank you for having me tonight, Nick.
Well, at least, the visit is an important one. The visits are important, because those dialogue are absolutely necessary to find the path to de-escalation. And there was a third visit in Germany after Kyiv where President Macron met with President Duda — Poland chairs the OSCE — and with German Chancellor Scholz, just back from Washington. And Germany chairs the G7. So, the chairs of the E.U., the G7 and OSCE were together in Berlin.
All this shows there is a unity, a coordination between allies, between Europeans and Americans, to go for a de-escalation of the situation.
As you know, some in Washington and Kyiv in Ukraine fear that President Macron is more focused on reelection and putting Europe in the center of the debate now that former German Chancellor Angela Merkel is gone.
So what is President Macron really trying to do?
This fear is completely unjustified.
It's really important to maintain this unity. And we are doing that. And what we try to do is to deter an aggression and to avoid a war, then to keep our unity, our solidarity in a way which makes us together stronger to deter this aggression, but then also to have this dialogue, because, if we don't speak with the Russian leader, with the president of Russia, how do you want to find this path to de-escalation?
And what does it mean, de-escalation? It means also, as Germany and France are mediating in the Eastern Ukraine conflict in 2014, make progress in the implementation of the so-called Minsk agreements.
So, let's go into some of those specifics.
You helped create the Minsk accords. You were intimately involved in their being written. Those, of course, are diplomatic agreements. And they call on Kiev to give Donetsk and Luhansk, those Eastern regions that are largely controlled by Russian-backed separatists, to give those regions special status.
But, today, we heard from Ukraine's foreign minister, who said that any kind of autonomy for those regions are beyond a red line or red line that they wouldn't cross. So what's the solution?
The solution — and both President Zelensky and President Putin recommitted clearly their countries to this — is the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
We know it is a difficult subject for our Ukrainian partners, but we, together with Germany, well, they are in the Normandy format also to engage with Russia and to go on this way.
But how can you proceed when the Minsk accords is calling for something that Kyiv itself does not want to provide?
Well, I cannot agree with you, because, today, during the visit to Kyiv, the Ukrainian leader recommitted, like yesterday in Moscow. The president of Russia also recommitted their countries to these Minsk agreement.
But we stand firm with the Ukrainians in the way these agreements have to be negotiated. We will not accept some of the requests which are done, with are being presented by the other side.
The other side, of course, being Russia.
Minsk calls for Russian-backed separatists to fully lay down their arms and to return control of the border between Russia and Ukraine that they currently control.
Do you believe that Ukraine needs to take the first step, needs to talk about its political part of Minsk, before Russian-backed separatists take some of these military steps?
Everybody has to make his part.
And, as I told you, the Ukrainian government has always taken an important step recently. And the Minsk agreements and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, by the way, are not only about the political side. It's also about very important humanitarian subjects which are important for those populations which suffer loss, and also about the possibility to secure a cease-fire, a complete cease-fire.
And there was in December, at the first — at the last meeting of the advisers, this commitment for a complete cease-fire.
But there is there a problem of who goes first?
There is a sequencing, which is very difficult.
In all those political settlements, in all those agreements, very often, there is — the most difficult issue is the issue of who's moving first, of course. But we are there, together with Germany, to help Ukraine and Russia to move in this direction.
President Macron said today: "I secured an assurance there would be no deterioration or escalation from President Putin."
What did President Putin specifically promise to do or not to do?
I was not — you know, there were meetings both in Kyiv and in Moscow which were one-to-one. So I wasn't there. And I can't be more specific that what President — our president, President Macron, said about what President Putin told him.
But, anyway, we are also — the unity, I mean, and the coordination between allies is also important on the side of the deterrence, and the deterrence of any aggression by Russia.
Senior NATO officials I speak to say that one of their goals right now is to prevent any war in Ukraine from spilling into NATO.
Do you fear that Russia could use the war in Ukraine to divide NATO, whether militarily, through migrants, or through Eastern European NATO members that have relationships with Moscow?
Unity, solidarity is indeed a core issue. And we keep this very, very much in our mind. If Russia wants to divide us, I don't think it will be a success.
But for keeping this unity, we also need, indeed, to reassuring the countries which are at the eastern border of NATO. This is the reason why different countries, including the U.S. and France, announced their availability or their decisions to take concrete measures and to deploy troops in those countries, such as Poland and Romania.
And they're both…
We are in — France, already in Estonia, and we said we were available, pending a decision by NATO, to deploy troops to Romania.
Philippe Etienne, France's ambassador to the United States, thank you very much.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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