After his tour of Moscow and Kiev, Emmanuel Macron tried to put the best possible face on the lack of concrete promises from Moscow towards de-escalation. A day after meeting in the Kremlin with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, the French president traveled to the capital of Ukraine, where he had talks with the country’s president, Volodymir Zelenski, and where he assured to glimpse “solutions” to the security crisis in Eastern Europe. From Moscow, however, the interpretation of what happened differed substantially, and its spokesmen were denying or clarifying during the day some of the information provided by the French president.

Already in the morning, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, had denied an announcement, made hours earlier from Paris by the Elysée, assuring that Putin had promised his French counterpart to suspend the military exercises and maneuvers constantly carried out, since the beginning of the crisis, by the contingent deployed near the Ukrainian border. Moreover, the presidential spokesman went out of his way to underestimate the importance of France in this crisis, and the value of the good offices that its president could undertake: “In the current situation, France and Russia cannot reach an agreement; France is a member of NATO and the EU, it does not lead NATO”.

Two have been the only achievements obtained by Macron during his visit: the confirmation that Russia would withdraw its troops deployed in Belarus once the important military maneuvers taking place in the small ex-Soviet republic are over, in mid-February, something that, on the other hand, he had already said he would comply with. And the guarantee that Russia would not make any military move that could imply an escalation, a promise also qualified by Moscow. Any suggestion of a guarantee “is not correct,” Russian sources pointed out.

Where there was some palpable progress was in the reactivation of the peace process for the Donbas conflict. During the joint press conference with Macron, the Ukrainian president, Volodymir Zelenski, announced the imminent holding of a meeting at expert level of the so-called Normandy Quartet, composed of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, in theory preparatory to a subsequent summit of the leaders of these four countries that manage the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The last occasion when a similar summit took place dates back to December 2019, although it only served to agree on a new ceasefire and a prisoner exchange.

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