Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is heading to Paris likely by the end of next week for a meeting with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.
"The main purpose of the visit is to have a one-on-one meeting with Macron," France's Ambassador to Ukraine Etienne de Poncins told Kyiv Post.
The two leaders' agenda may include such issues as Russia's military build-up near Ukraine's eastern border and the status of Ukraine's reforms, particularly in creating an independent and trustworthy judiciary.
France is concerned about Russia's moves, with de Poncins calling the Russian reinforcements "significantly different than what we have seen in previous years." However, "we may be a little less alarmed than some of our partners."
Speaking in an interview with the Ukrainian media outlet LB.ua, Deputy Head of the Ukrainian President's Office Ihor Zhovkva announced a planned trilateral meeting of Normandy leaders, namely Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. The Kremlin has abandoned the full format of the Normandy Four summit amid the ongoing escalation in Donbas.
France and Germany are mediating countries in the Normandy process, trying to end the seven-year war of Russia against Ukraine, as a result of which the Kremlin controls 7% of Ukraine's territory – Crimea and part of Donbas. Some 13,000 people were killed and another 1.5 million displaced as a result of the conflict.
However, the leaders of two EU states, Macron and Merkel, were criticized for discussing the Ukraine issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 30 without Zelensky's participation. The critics point out the trilateral talks have undermined the reputation of Ukraine and even the EU.
Later, France and Germany provoked another scandal, calling on both sides to "show restraint and de-escalate" hostilities in Donbas – as if the territory of Ukraine had not suffered from the Russian invasion.
Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges said on Twitter that the call was "one of the most pathetic statements I've ever seen." He noted that equating Ukraine's defense with the Kremlin's aggression is "disgusting."
Russian troops amassed along Ukraine's borders
- On March 30, 2021, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel-General Ruslan Khomchak said Russia had deployed 28 battalion tactical groups along the state border of Ukraine and in the temporarily occupied territories. It is also said to be planning to bring up to 25 battalion tactical groups under the guise of preparing for military drills. Such actions pose a threat to Ukraine's military security.
- The U.S. Department of Defense said it was "aware of Russian troop movements" on Ukraine's borders and was concerned about recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
- On April 1, 2021, the Kremlin commented on the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine's borders, saying this should not cause "any concern" to anyone.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Moscow is trying to put pressure on Kyiv by amassing its military forces along the Russian-Ukrainian border. At the same time, he assures Ukraine is ready to counter any provocation and continues to defend in the negotiations the position of maintaining a more effective ceasefire in Donbas.
- The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate does not rule out that enemy forces may try to go for an incursion and deploy their troops deeper into the territory of Ukraine. According to intelligence reports, Russia is building up its military presence near the Ukrainian borders and is completing the preparation of a set of measures aimed at forcing Ukraine into a military response.
- On April 1, 2021, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran had a phone call on the initiative of the American side. Austin condemned the recent aggressive and provocative actions by Russia in eastern Ukraine and assured his counterpart of U.S. readiness to support Ukraine in the context of Russia's ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea.
- In turn, the Kremlin vowed "additional measures" if the U.S. troops are deployed on the territory of Ukraine.
- U.S. President Joe Biden in his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 2, 2021, affirmed the U.S. "unwavering support" for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity "in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression" in Donbas and Crimea.