Powers vie for Ukraine’s role but no ‘miracle’ in sight

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Paris (AFP)- The powers are jostling to play the lead role in finding a diplomatic solution to Russia’s war in Ukraine, but such attempts risk being a sideshow unless President Vladimir Putin shows genuine interest in a negotiated settlement.

Turkey on Thursday hosted the first talks between Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers since the invasion, in a much-anticipated meeting that Ankara hopes to show its potential as a mediator.

And Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow last Saturday for one-on-one talks with Putin, in a hugely symbolic move on the Jewish Sabbath.

French President Emmanuel Macron has meanwhile spent several hours on the phone with Putin since the invasion began to keep communication channels open even in the darkest of times.

“The meeting was an important start. No one should expect miracles from a meeting,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after the meeting between his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts , which he admitted “not easy”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Moscow last Saturday for face-to-face talks with Putin, in a hugely symbolic move on the Jewish Sabbath. Menahem KAHANA AFP

Yet analysts say for now Putin appears determined to push the offensive deep into Ukraine with the aim of taking Kiev, despite Western observers agreeing that the invasion has progressed more slowly than Moscow expected. hoped.

Only if the Ukrainian resistance held off Russian forces even longer, inflicting heavy casualties, with Western sanctions crippling the Russian economy, would Putin begin to take the talks seriously.

‘Exit strategy?’

“It’s very good that Turkey and Israel are trying, but I don’t see that as fundamentally important,” said Marc Pierini, visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe.

“I don’t believe that a peace solution would go through Turkey or Israel because Putin’s confrontation is with (US President Joe) Biden and NATO, and I’m not sure he wants to get out of the crisis.”

“At the end of the day, the real questions that matter are how far the Russian steamroller can continue to advance in Ukraine, and the extent of the sanctions,” he said.

Observers believe Russia has suffered massive human and material losses over the past two weeks. A call from Russia for Syrian fighters to join the battle is a sign that more numbers are needed.

“If Ukrainian forces continue to inflame the Russian military at the current rate, Putin will have to start looking for a viable exit strategy,” wrote Gustav Gressel, senior policy officer at the European Council on Foreign Relations, this week.

Macron, who French officials say is still using the
Macron, who French officials say always uses the informal “vous” in talks with Putin, has promised to continue talking with the Russian leader even if the outlook is unclear. Ian LANGSDON POOL/AFP

A senior French security source, who requested anonymity, said this week that it was “not ruled out” that a diplomatic solution was on the table.

Putin said on Friday there had been “positive changes” in the talks between Russia and Ukraine, whose officials also met in Belarus.

“Engaged in dialogue”

Turkey has a complex relationship with Russia. The two countries are longtime rivals and have opposed each other in the conflicts in Libya and Syria.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has forged a close alliance with Putin in recent years, which has sometimes embarrassed other NATO members.

“Contrary to the cliché of a marriage of convenience between Russia and Turkey, we are the only NATO member that has been able to show Russia its limits in Libya and Syria,” the AFP told AFP. Turkish ambassador to France, Ali Onaner.

He said Turkey had accumulated “the greatest experience” in dealing with difficult issues with Russia during years of sometimes tense talks over the Syrian crisis.

Putin said on Friday that there had been
Putin said on Friday there had been “positive changes” in talks between Russia and Ukraine, whose officials also held talks in Belarus. Mikhail KLIMENTYEV SPUTNIK/AFP

Israel also touts a specific political advantage, with an Israeli diplomatic source saying the country is “the only actor capable of speaking directly to Russia and Ukraine, and with Western countries like France or Germany.”

Their overtures also come with Israel and Turkey embroiled in bilateral rapprochement after years of strained relations, with President Isaac Herzog visiting this week for talks with Erdogan.

Pierre Razoux, academic director of the French Army’s Institute for Strategic Research, said the conflict was deeply uncomfortable for Turkey and Israel, as each wants good relations with Kyiv and Moscow.

“They feel obliged to condemn the Russian offensive but also want to show that they are ready to talk” in Moscow, he said.

“All these channels are useful but I don’t think it will lead to anything,” Razoux added.

Macron, who French officials say always uses the informal “vous” in talks with Putin, has promised to continue talking with the Russian leader even if the outlook is unclear.

“We must remain engaged in a dialogue to obtain a solution,” Macron said Thursday, warning that “I don’t see a diplomatic solution in the next few hours or days.”

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