French President Emmanuel Macron succeeded in getting his colleagues from Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, to agree to a summit on security issues in the Ukrainian Donbass, where an armed escalation has continued for the fourth day since 18 February.
Macron “proposed a summit between President Biden and President Putin and then with relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe. Presidents Biden and Putin both agreed with the idea of such a summit in principle,” the Elysee Palace reported.
If this summit takes place, then definitely after February 24, that is, after negotiations between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov take place. And on one condition, indispensable for all meetings and contacts – “that Russia will not invade Ukraine.”
French President Macron over the past two days held telephone conversations with Putin, Biden, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. From the latter, the French president, according to him, received a promise “not to respond to provocations and to observe the ceasefire in Donbass.”
The Georgian precedent
In 2008, when the Russian army intervened in Georgia, after an attempt by the Georgian government to retake the separatist region of South Ossetia, it was another French President, the now disgraced Nicholas Sarkozy, who brokered a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia.
Western media coverage loudly denounced Russian invasion, entirely omitting what led to Russian intervention in Georgia. Georgia, since the independence in 1991, has never for a single day controlled South Ossetia. A war had erupted in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December, and the hostilities lasted until June 1992. As a result, Abkhazia and South Ossetia obtained de facto independence, but no international recognition.
The crisis in the Donbass is in many ways similar. Ukraine insists on speaking of the Donbass exclusively as “territories temporary occupied by the Russian Federation”. On the other hand, Ukraine does not seem intent on providing any sort of autonomy to the rebel areas. As the Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, once lionized in the West for having been arrested and sentenced by Russia, now almost entirely forgot after having been released, said in a a recent interview, Ukraine should focus of “returning the territories, not the people”. Ukrainian official language policies, the violent anti-Russian sentiment and incessant war rhetoric of the last eight years suggest that this may well be Ukraine’s preferred course of action. The US and the EU, never tiring of stating their unshakable support for Ukraine, nominally push for the ceasefire agreed in the Minsk agreements of 2015, but do not appear to insist too much on them in practice.
Can Macron broker a permanent peace between Russia and NATO?
The French President, who was recently in Moscow and held long talks with Putin, genuinely appears to be interested in averting open hostilities in Ukraine. Like Sarkozy, he seems to be willing to take his own course. Not everyone is happy with that. The Financial Times asked: “Can Macron be trusted?” The West is very much concerned about unity and speaking in one voice. With the US, the UK and NATO warning daily that a Russian invasion is imminent (in spite of having said they would not call it imminent anymore only a few weeks ago) and now that they are confident that Putin has made up his made, the French approach, insisting on talks and trying to reach mutual understanding, appears clearly at odds with that. On one had Macron cannot entirely break with the official Western line; on the other, the US cannot concede an inch to Russia, concerned as it is about projecting strength and unity, but it also probably cannot afford to go it alone like with the Iraq War in 2003, when France and Germany, both NATO members, decided to stay out of the Iraq adventure. Another disagreement on the Ukrainian crisis would be a serious rift between NATO.
Macron is a temporary elected politician who will be facing an election in as little as two months. The entire Western establishment, on the other hand, appears to be set for confrontation. Not a single concession can be made to Russia on principle. War with Russia is also meant to function as a unifying cause among an increasingly disaffected and impoverished Western public. Almost alone against a Western elite increasingly driven by empty slogans and group think, it is unclear how much Macron can do to defuse a crisis that the West, in spite of all the constant statements of the contrary, seems to welcome because it emboldens it.