Russia moves landing craft into Black Sea as Macron meets Ukrainian leader

LONDON – When American troops landed in Poland, French President Emmanuel Macron drove to the Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The night before, he was walking through the snow in Red Square in Moscow after a five-hour meeting with Vladimir Putin.

The Americans had been sent to Poland by an American president determined to fortify Europe’s eastern flank and fortify a united front against Russia.

France’s Macron was on a peacekeeping mission, perhaps in vain, but there he sat at opposite ends of a long white table, trying to guess the intentions of the Russian President.

Will he, or will he not invade Ukraine?

There were no major breakthroughs and no one expected, but Macron had the temperament of a man with incredible intelligence. One hope.

“We talked to President Putin and he told me he was not going to start an escalation. I think that’s important,” Macron said.

Important, but is Russia really stepping back, de-escalating after months of building up 130,000 troops to more or less encircle Ukraine?

At the same time that Macron was speaking, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that six large amphibious ships of the Russian Navy had been dispatched to the Black Sea.

For Americans and Europeans, that can only mean one thing: the possibility of a substantial amphibious assault on the Ukrainian coast.

The specter of a full-scale Russian invasion seems to have come to an end.

From the Kremlin has voiced denial. There is no agreement to de-escalate and back down, which would confound Macron and possibly mock him, if he were to fall for a bit of Putin’s deception, a spokesman said.

The Kremlin voice said: “This is wrong in its own right. “Moscow and Paris cannot make any agreement. It is simply not possible. ”

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, knows well the wisdom of being near his name in Moscow. It is understandable that he is wary and deeply distrustful, with his country’s eastern border besieged for years at the hands of pro-Russian militants.

“Ukraine is very patient, because it is very wise,” he said. “I think that is very important not only for Ukraine but also for Europe as a whole and for the Russian people.”

Wisdom can be fleeting when you are faced with an invading army and your country is threatened with overthrow and occupation. And you cannot be sure that your hypothetical allies will come to your defense.

“I don’t believe in words in general,” Mr. Zelensky said. A politician’s sincerity is measured by actions.

While all that was going on, the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, put on a helmet and body armor and toured the eastern front lines of Ukraine.

She saw houses destroyed by shelling, doors covered with bullet holes; Children’s toys are left behind as families flee from constant bombardment. Now that is where Ukrainian soldiers wait in the trenches before the advance of the overwhelming Russian army.

“I am here,” she said, “to get an impression of what it means for us to still be at war in the middle of Europe.”

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