Ukraine: Putin has 'framed the debate' surrounding de-escalation
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Berlin is pushing for a diplomatic solution to the crisis with an adviser to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz due to meet counterparts from Paris and Moscow this week, but without Ukraine at the negotiating table. The move led Financial Times journalist Henry Foy to tweet: “Own goal from Paris and Berlin as they agree to a Normandy Format meeting with Moscow to discuss Ukraine, without a delegation from Ukraine present.
“More fuel for Russia’s argument that big countries should decide the fate of smaller ones, size & number of tanks, not GDP, obv”.
The Normandy Format is the name given to talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany to resolve the eight year long crisis.
Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesperson for the German government, has also refused to confirm details of a possible meeting between Mr Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin, following a report in Bild saying that the leaders could meet this month.
But Mr Hebestreit told reporters: “Adviser to the German Chancellor Jens Plotner will meet with his Russian and French counterparts this week.”
However, on Tuesday, details of a call between US President Joe Biden and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky were released by the White House which raise questions about Paris and Berlin’s move.
Part of the White House statement reads: “President Biden underscored the commitment of the United States and its allies and partners to the principle of ‘nothing about you without you.'”
During the call, President Biden also made clear the US and its allies would respond “decisively” if Russia further invades Ukraine.
The leaders are also reported to have expressed support for diplomatic efforts which start next week with a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue at NATO through the NATO-Russia Council and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
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In December, Mr Zelensky told a news conference that Ukraine was ready for talks in the Normandy Format or any other.
He said: “What our state cares about is a strong sanctions policy that comes before a likely escalation.
“Only this type of relations based on precautionary measures can really stop the military conflict that has been ongoing in the east of our country for eight years now.”
At that time, the leaders of France and Germany sought to revive talks with Russia while keeping up pressure on Moscow to deter what the West says may be preparations for a new attack on Ukrainian territory.
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French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr Scholz and Mr Zelensky were meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels to find ways to restart negotiations in the Normandy Format.
More than 100,000 Russian troops have gathered around Ukraine’s borders, along with weapons and armoured vehicles.
In an article in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum warns that alarm bells are ringing louder in Washington than Kiev with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling European allies several weeks ago of a Russian invasion.
She writes that rumours of “genuinely terrible things to come” are “flying around other Western capitals too”, meaning an invasion of Ukraine’s capital and occupation of the country.
The journalist and historian states that US officials have been showing allies strategic intelligence, insights from Kremlin insiders and “ominous” photos of military equipment and personnel massing at Ukraine’s border to back up their claims.
In a further development, Finland has said it could join NATO in defiance of Russia’s warning that the alliance should not expand further east.
The country’s president, Sauli Niinisto, made the comment during a New Year address on Saturday which appeared to be designed to anger Russia’s leader.
Mr Putin has demanded cast iron guarantees in the past that Ukraine would never be allowed to join NATO, arguing that the military alliance’s eastwards expansion represents a threat to his border.
That appears to have prompted Mr Niinisto’s remark, which may be understood as a warning to Moscow not to threaten its neighbours.
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