French Diplomacy: Emmanuel Macron Tests the Issue of Ukraine Neutrality

Vladimir Putin’s Dec. 17 decision to negotiate directly with the United States on the issue of a new security architecture in Europe, over the heads of European leaders, was motivated in large part by the failure of France and Germany to pressure the Ukrainian government into implementing the Minsk accord. It had the positive effect of pushing the Europeans – Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz in particular — to take a more active role in the talks on a security architecture.

Clearly, after the departure of Angela Merkel, only Emmanuel Macron had the stature and the personal relationship to President Putin needed to take on this task. Moreover, since Jan.1, he has assumed the rotating presidency of the European Council.

With less than three months to the French presidential elections and with a majority of the main candidates (Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, Jean-Luc Mélenchon) and of the small “souverainist parties” calling for cooperation with Russia and for France to pull out of NATO’s integrated command, and with Valérie Pécresse of Sarkozy’s center-right party Les Républicains supporting a pan-European security conference “from the Atlantic to the Urals”, Macron also saw this role as a major flank to secure his re-election.

Despite much speculation and psy war in the media since, Macron’s meeting with Putin on Feb. 7, which lasted nearly six hours, opened the door to negotiations. At the joint press conference which followed, the Russian President told journalists that it had been “useful, substantive and business-like, and said that some of Macron’s ideas could form a basis for further joint steps.”

While most of those ideas are still secret, on the plane to Moscow, Macron had revealed one of them: a possible status of neutrality for Ukraine. This issue had been also taken up by former Foreign Affairs minister Hubert Védrine, who supports Macron’s initiative, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on Feb. 6. Pleading for a tough dialogue with Russia, but one which leads to real concessions on both parts, Védrine regretted “that the West, due to simple Manichaeism or arrogance, completely abandoned this need for a strategic dialogue with Russia, because it believed it had triumphed.”

Asked then if the “subject of the finlandization of Ukraine would be a taboo” in such a discussion, Védrine answered that it would not be. “Otherwise, why would someone as prestigious as Henry Kissinger speak again, no more than two months ago, of a finlandization status for Ukraine?” He recalled that even the very anti-Russian Zbigniew Brzezinski proposed “a status of guaranteed neutrality” for Ukraine. Moreover, Ukrainian citizens themselves approved a neutrality status for the country in two referendums in 1991.

Such a perspective is not to the liking of the “British empire” and its Foreign Office. Thus, the Daily Mail of Feb. 8 accused Emmanuel Macron of making “offers to Mr. Putin that were not sanctioned by France’s NATO partners, including the U.K”, including a neutrality status for Ukraine. A source told the Mail that the French President is “doing his own thing We don’t know what’s happening. He’s gone beyond the NATO position.”

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