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The diplomatic scramble to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine continues


There's a revolving door of diplomats going through Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron met with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, today at Mariinsky Palace to discuss tensions with Russia. It's the second stop in a short, intense diplomatic trip. Yesterday, Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin alone for several hours. NPR's Paris correspondent, Eleanor Beardsley, joins us now to talk about the latest diplomatic efforts. Good morning, Eleanor.


FADEL: So Macron and Zelenskyy met for a couple of hours and just spoke to the press. Can you tell us what they said?

BEARDSLEY: Well, what I heard were really concrete proposals. You know, you felt that there was more compared to last night, which was all very vague with Putin. You know, with Zelenskyy, you felt that there was more of an understanding with Macron. He was very complimentary to the Ukrainian president. He said that they had laid out - he said he had been very strong in this crisis, and they've laid out a road map. And they're going to use the Minsk accords and Putin is on board; so is Zelenskyy. And the Minsk accords were put in place in 2014 to solve the war in the Donbas region with the separatists, and they were direct talks between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, who met many times. It's been frozen. But Macron said Ukraine needs to recover its territorial integrity. So to solve the current crisis, we need to solve this war in the east. They're going to - France and Germany are going to be the Sherpas, said Macron, to guide Ukraine and Russia through this process, and it's going to start immediately.

And you know what, Leila? During this press conference, you really got a feel for the Ukraine-Russia relationship because at one point, Zelenskyy switched into Russian, he said, to give a message to Putin, and he was answering a sort of derogatory, I've been told, vulgar remark that Putin made last night that passed over our heads because it's been described to me as insider former Soviet bloc dark humor. But he answered him.

FADEL: So you said this was very different than the press conference yesterday with Putin. Can you describe that meeting?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, that meeting was just so bizarre. I mean, you could tell by their body language and their summaries. Putin, he just railed against NATO. He just, you know, spent a good time doing that. He said, you know, NATO, you have your guns and troops right by our border, but you tell us we cannot have military exercises on our own territory. And then, you know, you saw his cynical view of things. He spoke of Ukraine not keeping its promises in the Donbas. And he spoke of Ukraine violating, you know, human rights and closing down media. And isn't that what Putin does? And then you saw, you know, Macron, he seemed, you know, painfully trying to deal with this, trying to put a positive spin on it. It was awkward. I mean, the negotiating table was like a metaphor for these talks. It was so long. The leaders were separated by, like, 20 feet. It looked so cold and uncomfortable. Yeah. So he admitted there were a lot of disagreements, Macron said. But he said geography doesn't change. Russia's in Europe, and we have to negotiate with him. And then he said this.



BEARDSLEY: He said, there's no security for Europeans if there's no security for Russia.

FADEL: So was there progress?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, I think there was progress, especially after today. And, you know, the West has been really united in the face of this - NATO, the Europeans, the Americans - prompting one analyst I spoke to, Benjamin Haddad, European director for the Atlantic Council, to wonder if Putin might have been taken aback by that unified front. Here he is.

BENJAMIN HADDAD: I think the real question here is, does Putin feel that he may have got himself into some sort of trap and that he's looking for a way to de-escalate?

FADEL: Now, that meeting took place as U.S. President Joe Biden met with the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Do the U.S. and Germany seem to be on the same page?

BEARDSLEY: They are. It may have taken a few weeks to get there, but they are. Biden has said that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany will be stopped if Russia invades. And the chancellor says Germany agrees with the U.S. on everything.

FADEL: That's NPR's Paris correspondent, Eleanor Beardsley. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.