Macron, Zelensky turn page on Russia 'humiliation' spat
French President Emmanuel Macron made his first trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion this week to throw political clout behind the war effort -- and also to clear the air.
Macron is one of the few Western leaders who has been speaking to Russia's leader since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, spending hours on the phone with President Vladimir Putin.
It's a controversial tendency that has drawn ire from Ukraine's allies. Their frustration only deepened in May when Macron said that in ending the conflict Russia must not be "humiliated".
The French president's trip -- coordinated with the German and Italian leaders -- appeared to bring the embarrassing chapter to a close.
"We've turned the page," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
"The relationship with President Macron is transparent and frank," he added, speaking in the gardens of the Ukrainian presidential palace alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
In the run-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, European leaders made last ditch efforts to persuade Putin to change course, with Macron and Scholz among leaders travelling to Moscow to meet face-to-face with Putin.
The coordinated visit by the EU leaders this week to Kyiv illustrate how the bloc has firmly come down on the Kyiv's side, including most recently by backing its status as a EU-member candidate.
Macron's meeting with Zelensky this week was the first since the war but the two men have known each other for years.
Macron was one of the first European leaders to host the actor-turned-president after his election in April 2019 -- and they have showed their mutual affinity in front of the cameras with hugs and handshakes.
Like Zelensky, Paris this week also played down the idea that Macron's remarks in mid-May -- in which he said that peace efforts would not be served by Russia's "humiliation" -- had generated tension.
- Military support -
"They talk on the phone without scheduling it," said a French diplomatic source, for whom the remark had never created "any problem in their conversations".
In remarks on May 9, Macron said it was important to "never give in to the temptation to humiliate (Russia)", prompting Zelensky to reproach him for trying to offer Moscow "a way out".
And Ukraine's top diplomat Dmytro Kuleba said such remarks in turn only served "to humiliate France".
In Kyiv, Macron explained that the comments had referred to a time after the war had ended when a new security framework for Europe would have to be negotiated.
"Today, Russia is waging war against Ukraine. How on earth could I explain to any Ukrainian the idea that 'You must not humiliate Russia, the Russian people nor its leaders'?" he said.
"Today, they must win this war. France clearly supports Ukraine so that it wins," he insisted.
He also said France would send six more of its sophisticated long-range Caesar howitzers, the showpiece of French artillery, on top of the 12 it has already supplied to counter the Russian invasion.
"But at the end of this war... we must not make the mistakes that others have made in the past," Macron said, referring to the vengeful attitude towards vanquished Germany in the wake of World War I.
- A parley with Putin? -
Responding to Zelensky's retort at the time that Macron's remarks were tantamount to offering Russia "concessions", the French president was adamant.
"That is never what we have done, we haven't offered concessions, nor have we tried to negotiate concessions," he said.
Zelensky also questioned the value of talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- as Macron has been doing -- to try and end the war.
"I'm not sure there is any possibility that the Russian president is ready to hear anything," the Ukrainian leader said.
Macron agreed that diplomacy wasn't having the desired effect.
"Today we see clearly from the situation on the ground that (talking) isn't working," he said, a nod to the heavy losses caused by Russia's unrelenting onslaught in the eastern Donbas region.
"I don't rule out doing so, however, on emergency issues like food security," he said.
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