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Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron is approaching China with a plan that he believes could potentially lead to talks between Russia and Ukraine, possibly as soon as the northern summer.
Macron has tasked his foreign policy adviser Emmanuel Bonne to work with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to establish a framework that could be used as a basis for future negotiations, according to people familiar with the plans.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week.Credit: AFP
“As President Xi Jinping stressed, there are no magic pills to solve the crisis,” according to a spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry. The spokesperson added that all parties would need to “accumulate mutual trust to create conditions for a truce and peace talks”.
The French strategy envisions talks between Russia and Ukraine happening as soon as this summer if all goes well, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
On his recent trip to China, the French president fell short of his goal to convince Xi to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — the two still haven’t spoken since the war broke out more than a year ago.
Macron also infuriated allies last year after he said allies shouldn’t “humiliate” Russia.
“China supports Europe starting from its own fundamental and long-term interests to push for resuming peace talks as soon as possible and to create a balanced, effective and sustainable European security framework with consideration for the reasonable concerns of various parties,” according to the Chinese spokesperson.
It’s not clear if Macron has support for his plan from Kyiv and its allies, many of whom have dismissed cease-fire proposals that would allow Russia to keep territorial gains. Many nations are also sceptical that China can serve as a neutral intermediary given its “no-limits friendship” with Russia.
The countries have repeatedly pledged to strengthen ties, including a call on Monday to boost cooperation between their militaries.
Soldiers walk amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, in April 2022.Credit: AP
An official from Macron’s office confirmed the plan for Bonne to speak to Wang but declined to comment on the details, adding that France’s allies have been informed of any French initiative.
British politicians have been scathing of Macron’s initiative.
The chairman of UK Parliament’s defence select committee Tobias Ellwood was quoted in the London Telegraph as saying of Marcon: “He may think he’s pursuing a noble cause but he is falling into China’s playbook, bypassing common international practices and the recognised machinery to resolve international disputes”.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the ex-Tory party leader, said: “When I was in Ukraine I found they do not trust the Chinese or Macron. He put them in this predicament in the first place when he came up with the disastrous agreement with Merkel in 2014,” he said.
“They are saying Macron has one objective, and that is boosting Macron’s image, and he doesn’t care who he sells down the river to achieve that,” Duncan Smith reportedly said.
Any future negotiations would be dependent on several conditions, including a successful Ukrainian spring offensive that would put Kyiv in a position of strength during any talks, according to the people.
Some European officials worry that dangerously high expectations have been placed on any Ukrainian counteroffensive, which may not be decisive enough for Kyiv to liberate all the territory Russia has occupied. A more realistic target is a 30 kilometre or so advance in the south that would put Ukraine’s most capable artillery within range of Russian supply lines and create the conditions for a deeper push in 2024, Bloomberg previously reported.
This means Ukraine’s allies would need to ramp up support to enable future offensives to win back more occupied territory or that any potential ceasefire negotiations before that time could see Russia remain entrenched in significant swathes of Ukrainian territory.
Macron has previously said that he sees a major role for China and that thanks to its relationship with Russia it could “bring Moscow back to reason.” Beijing so far hasn’t shown signs that it’s willing to pressure Moscow to withdraw troops.
Top diplomats from the Group of Seven nations — including France — this week endorsed Zelensky’s “Peace Formula,” which includes the complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
Zelensky said on Telegram over the weekend that he talked with Macron about his recent visit to China. The two spoke about the next steps in organising a peace summit, Agence France-Presse wrote, citing an official in Macron’s office.
Kyiv has repeatedly said that territorial concessions shouldn’t be on the table and several of Ukraine’s allies back that position, warning that any settlement that essentially freezes the war would likely see Russia rearm before starting another offensive.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin has provided little indication to suggest his objectives have changed, let alone that he is prepared to move forces out of Ukrainian territory.
Macron’s plan would rely on long-term security assurances for Ukraine that would aim to deter Russia from future acts of aggression, according to the people. Allies have yet to spell out the specifics of the measures due to be agreed at a NATO leaders’ summit in Lithuania in July, but will aim to help Ukraine modernise its armed forces and become more interoperable with NATO militaries.
In parallel, Ukraine’s allies are also working on ways to sustain the ongoing provision of weapons and key supplies, such as 155mm rounds of ammunition, one of the people said.
Bloomberg with reporters
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