Macron's Moscow strategy faces first test as Ukraine leader meets Putin in Paris

David Chazan
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, is trying to reset Europe's relations with Moscow - REUTERS

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, faces a formidable test as he tries to negotiate an end to the war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine at a summit with Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday.

Few expect a breakthrough and many Ukrainians fear their comedian-turned-president may give away too much in his first face-to-face talks with the veteran Kremlin leader since he took office in May.

The meeting at the Élysée Palace, mediated by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, aims to revive efforts to resolve the five-year conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced millions. 

France and Germany brokered agreements calling for a ceasefire in 2015 but they were never implemented and talks between Ukraine and Russia stalled under Mr Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Zelenskiy argues that negotiations with Russia are the only way to resolve the conflict. 

He hopes to reach agreement with Mr Putin on a ceasefire and an exchange of all prisoners, but thousands of people joined an opposition rally in Kiev on Sunday demanding that he uphold the country’s interests.

“We don’t need peace at any cost under Russian conditions,” said Tamara Lukashuk, 52.

The determination of Ukraine’s allies to check Russian aggression now has to compete with Donald Trump’s admiration for Mr Putin and Mr Macron’s drive to reset Europe’s relations with Moscow.

 

The French president pushed hard for the four way “Normandy format” summit. It is seen as a test of his efforts to bring Moscow back in from the cold after five years of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin Credit: GETTY

But Kyiv is wary of Mr Macron’s overtures to Moscow and also fears that the construction of a controversial natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will strengthen Russian influence in Europe. 

The summit comes amid tensions between Germany and Russia over a murder in Berlin. Relations between Paris and Moscow have also been strained by reports that Russian spies used the French Alps as a base to plot killings around Europe, possibly including the poisoning of defector Sergei Skripal in Salisbury last year.

Germany expelled two Russian diplomats last week after prosecutors said the killing of a Georgian man on the streets of Berlin in August appeared to have been ordered by the Russian authorities.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Ms Merkel’s defence minister and the leader of her party, told a German Sunday newspaper: “Now the Russian side must finally make its contribution to clearing up this crime. And we will have to discuss and decide on further reactions in the German government.”

Ms Merkel will hold bilateral talks with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the summit.