Macron talks to Putin as Germany’s Scholz shuns trip to Kyiv

Macron talks to Putin as Germany’s Scholz shuns trip to Kyiv

French President Emmanuel Macron held a two-hour telephone conversation Tuesday morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid reports the Kremlin could be ready to declare breakaway parts of eastern Ukraine as part of Russia’s sovereign territory.

The conversation between the two leaders was the first in more than a month and was the first since Mr. Macron secured a second five-year term in French elections April 24.

Mr. Macron has been the one Western leader with a relatively open line of communication to Mr. Putin since Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine Feb. 24.

French officials did not immediately release details of the call, but the Russian news website RIA said Mr. Putin took a hard line on the fighting and pressed France and NATO countries to do more to “stop the crimes of the Ukrainian military and militants of the national battalions.”

The two leaders also discussed the fallout on global food markets from the war, with Russia and Ukraine being major grain exporters to developing countries throughout the world.

French media reported that Mr. Macron spoke with conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy hours before speaking with Mr. Putin.

France, a NATO member, has condemned the war and offered strong support to the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

France and Germany were the main Western sponsors of a diplomatic process before the war between Kyiv and Moscow, seeking a resolution for the separatist war in Ukraine’s Donbas region backed by Russia.

But the so-called “Minsk process” has been in a deep freeze following Mr. Putin’s decision to invade.

Separately, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz found himself Tuesday in another political clash over Berlin’s support for Ukraine after Christian Democratic opposition leader Friedrich Merz became the latest Western political figure to visit Kyiv to express solidarity with Ukraine’s struggle.

Mr. Scholz recently announced a major shift in German defense policy to support Ukraine more aggressively with arms and other offensive military aid, but critics say his government continues to hang back compared to the U.S. and other NATO allies.

German officials say they have sharply cut their reliance on Russia as a supplier of oil, natural gas and coal, but Europe’s biggest economy continues to get a significant chunk of its energy imports from Russian state-owned suppliers.

Ukrainian leaders have also expressed their frustration at the scale and pace of German aid in the war.

Mr. Scholz told reporters he would not be going to Kyiv because the Ukrainian government had failed to invite German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“It can’t be that a country that provides so much military aid, so much financial aid … you then say that the president can’t come,” Mr. Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF late Monday.