Why France is taking a leading role in the effort to ease tensions between Russia, Ukraine

A whirlwind week of diplomacy continued Tuesday, as France’s President Emmanuel Macron visited the capital of Ukraine, following a lengthy day with Russia's Vladimir Putin. As Nick Schifrin reports, war in Europe hangs in the balance. But the question remains: is there a path away from a fight over Ukraine?

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A whirlwind week of diplomacy continued today, as the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, visited the capital of Ukraine, following a lengthy day with Vladimir Putin.

    As Nick Schifrin tells us, war in Europe hangs in the balance, but the question remains, is there a path away from a fight over Ukraine?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On the second leg of a one-man diplomatic tour, French President Emmanuel Macron received a warm welcome today from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    And, in a joint press conference, Macron said there was still time for diplomacy.

  • Emmanuel Macron, French President (through translator):

    Our desire for the following weeks and months is for the situation to stabilize and for us to be able to reengage, a sustainable de-escalation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But on the Ukrainian border, Russia continues to escalate, and today deployed more ships toward Ukraine's southern coast.

    Zelensky demanded that Russia send its troops back to barracks, but also said Ukraine wanted to talk.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    The first steps are what Emmanuel mentioned. We have a platform, the Normandy format.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Normandy format was born in 2014, Ukraine and Russia in the same room with Germany and France. They negotiated the Minsk agreements, which called for a cease-fire in Donetsk and Luhansk, the breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine backed by Russia, and find a political solution.

    The Minsk agreements require both sides to remove heavy weapons, Russia return control of the international border that separatists control, and Ukraine's Parliament to allow Donetsk and Luhansk — quote — "self-government" and reform the constitution to allow — quote — "decentralization."

    Today, Macron called Minsk the best way forward.

  • Emmanuel Macron (through translator):

    The Minsk accords are also the best protection of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Based on the commitment of the two sides, Russian and Ukrainian, we now have the possibility of advancing negotiations.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, yesterday, Putin said Ukraine had no option but to accept Minsk's demands, using crude language.

  • Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator):

    Like it or not, you have to suck it up.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Russia has never removed its weapons or given up its control of the border.

    And Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, today said handing over autonomy was dead on arrival.

    Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs (through translator): I have repeatedly said we are open for dialogue, but we won't cross our red lines, and no one will make us cross them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Macron says he's not trying to make Ukraine do anything, but he has long cultivated a relationship with Putin. In five years, the two have met dozens of times, including in Versailles, the historic home of French kings.

    And, in 2019, he hosted the only meeting between Zelensky and Putin, alongside then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last month, Macron, who is running for reelection, said the E.U. should hold its own talks with Russia, rather than rely on U.S./Russia talks to defuse the crisis.

  • Emmanuel Macron (through translator):

    For both us and Russia, for the security of our continent, which is indivisible, we need that dialogue. We have to, as Europeans, lay out our own demands and put ourselves in a position where we can make sure they're respected.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Whether Russia intends to de-escalate and respect demands for diplomacy will be tested again Thursday, when the Normandy format meets in Berlin.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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