Russia unmoved by West’s diplomacy over Ukraine

Analysis: Moscow persists in security demands that it knows Nato states will refuse

The echoing distance between Russian president Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron during their talks in the Kremlin this week symbolised where Moscow and the West stand on the security crisis in eastern Europe.

The Kremlin placed a vast table between the leaders because Macron refused to take a PCR test in Moscow, having tested negative before leaving Paris – a telling sign that there is precious little trust between Russia and France.

“We could not accept that they get their hands on the president’s DNA,” a source in Macron’s entourage told Reuters, after arduous talks that only highlighted the chasm between Putin and the West

“So he goes on for hours rewriting history from 1997 on. He drowns you in these long monologues,” a source in Macron’s team recounted.


“These more than five hours of talks make us realise how different the Putin of today was to the Putin of three years ago,” the source said, while a colleague noted that Macron had previously found Putin to be “less tough and less focused on history” than he was now.

When the Kremlin shot down a French claim the next day that Putin had vowed not to conduct any new military activity around Ukraine, Macron insisted his Moscow trip had been a success because his host had supposedly pledged not to escalate the current crisis.

Yet the history of Putin's eight-year – and still undeclared – war against Ukraine shows that he would inevitably frame any new attack as a response to escalation by others, whether Nato forces that he portrays as a threat to Russia or Ukrainian troops that he claims are ready to massacre Russian-speakers in the country's eastern Donbas region.

Fruitless talks

A nine-hour meeting on the Donbas conflict between Ukrainian, Russian, German and French government advisers drew another blank on Thursday, when British foreign secretary Liz Truss and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov also held prickly and fruitless talks.

Moscow continues to make security demands that it knows Nato states will never meet, and insists the Minsk accords to end the Donbas conflict be implemented in a way that would deeply undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and almost certainly spark destabilising protests.

All the while, Russia’s unprecedented military build-up around Ukraine continues, and now includes many of the logistical elements needed for a major invasion.

Putin has a range of options, from recognising the independence of militia-held areas of Donbas, to subjecting Ukraine to a long campaign of intense security, economic and political pressure, to a sudden all-out attack.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz will take up the West's diplomatic baton next week on visits to Kyiv and Moscow without knowing whether to treat this race to avert disaster as a sprint or a marathon.