In a bid to avert a war over Ukraine, and with energy security high on the agenda, French President Emmanuel Macron is in Moscow on Monday where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have kicked off what's expected to be "substantive and quite prolonged" talks, as the Kremlin previewed it. Throughout the past weeks of boiling tensions it's largely been Germany and France leading attempts to pursue robust diplomacy, quite apart from constant sanctions threats and talk of military options out of Washington.
Macron said in a weekend interview with Le Journal du Dimanche just before flying to Moscow, "The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU." While during the Putin meeting, no major breakthroughs are expected, given Macron can't make the kind of serious concessions Putin is looking for on NATO or Europe's behalf, there's at least hope it'll cool tensions and offer a further path of dialogue.
Macron further said in the interview of the Putin meeting, "We will discuss the terms to de-escalate," but also underscored that "One has to be realistic."
"We will not achieve unilateral gestures, but it is indispensable to avoid a degradation of the situation before we build mechanisms and gestures of reciprocal trust," he added, according to a CNBC translation. "I have always had a deep dialogue with President Putin and it is our responsibility to build historic solutions. There is, I think, an openness from President Putin to achieve this."
On Sunday Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan in interviews with the Sunday news shows claimed that Russia's military could invade Ukraine "any day now". "We believe that there is a very distinct possibility that Vladimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine," Sullivan said while speaking to ABC's This Week. "It could take a number of different forms. It could happen as soon as tomorrow or it could take some weeks yet."
But from NATO HQ's perspective, this remains unlikely, given Brussels appears to agree with the Ukrainian government perspective - that not enough of a troop force is in place yet for any kind of large-scale invasion…
Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO’s most senior military officer, said that Russia will have assembled enough military forces to potentially stage an operation against Ukraine at the end of February. But he added that officials cannot determine Putin’s intention or plans regarding Kyiv and that NATO doesn’t currently envision a direct threat to alliance members.
"Up until now, we don’t see an intent, we don’t expect an attack on NATO soil by Russia -– either directly or via Belarus," he said Monday at a news conference in Vilnius.
Also topping the agenda will be gas and energy supply questions, at a moment the Biden administration is busy seeking to shore up 'alternatives' in the event of conflict, and in the likelihood Russia shuts off supplies to Europe under dire circumstances…
"The EU and the Biden administration are set to announce at a joint meeting that they’re preparing to address any risks to European gas supplies," Bloomberg reports Monday. "Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, and Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson will join the EU-U.S. Energy Council meetings, where the most urgent discussions will concern ensuring that Europe receives additional volumes of liquefied natural gas in the short term if shipments via pipelines from Russia are derailed."
Borrell and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to meet related to the matter on Monday afternoon.
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In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, both US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W.Bush promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that they will never bring NATO to the borders of Russia but the United States took advantage of a weakened Russia led by President Yeltsin and reneged on that exactly as former President Trump reneged on Iran’s nuclear deal. In other words, the United States’ word is worth nothing.
US President John Kennedy brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war when the former Soviet Union stationed some short-range nuclear missiles in Cuba to defend it against threats of invasion by the United States.
Now the United States is trying to bring Ukraine into NATO thus being able to station nuclear missiles targeting Russia. How would the United States react if Putin’s Russia decided to place nuclear missiles in Venezuela or Cuba?
This is the crux of the matter to be addressed by President Macron of France and the western alliance.
I am convinced that Russia will be willing to sign a biding treaty with the United States and NATO guaranteeing the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine in return for Ukraine not joining NATO. It is a fair deal.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London