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06/02 – Franco-German couple takes responsibility for Ukraine crisis

Today’s European press provides a wide coverage about yesterday’s visit of French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ukraine and the unconfirmed new peace plan proposed by Germany and France. During their meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Hollande and Ms Merkel wanted to lay the ground for a comprehensive solution respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The discussion on the future of Crimea is likely to be postponed to a later date, Libération reports.

In Le Figaro’s editorial, Philippe Gélie argues that the Franco-German visit has a chance to bear fruit, at least on the short-term, since Vladimir Putin has made signs towards Europe. For Jean-Christophe Ploquin, in its La Croix’s editorial, this visit is a “spectacular approach” since “Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel are trying to stop the infernal mechanism which threatens Ukraine’s future and which is destabilising the whole of Europe”. If the Franco-German visit is praised by some media, other media outlets remain quite cautious, as the Spanish daily El País which features a column by José Ignacio Torreblanca. In his opinion piece, he takes the view that arming Ukraine is not a good idea, defending that Europe has been right in adopting a policy of sanctions against Russia.

Arming Ukraine would not only mean to acknowledge the failure of such a policy but, even worse, it would also mean to assume the consequences if Ukraine’s military, despite being provided with weaponry, is defeated. In that case, Europe itself should have to defend Ukraine, he says, while recommending the EU to “play its game, not Russia”. If Handelsblatt underlines Angela Merkel’s diplomatic action, describing her as a shrewd stateswoman who knows how to refrain from making a bad situation even worse, it also shines a light on the newfound alliance between Angela Merkel and François Hollande, as well as the rumoured new peace plan, even though the German government has since denied involvement.

In Handelsblatt, Thomas Siegmund argues that this rumoured plan could pose a solution to the Ukraine conflict, as Russian President Vladimir Putin takes both of them seriously. For Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)’s commentators, the accord, which contains a direct ceasefire and would concede autonomy in large parts of Eastern Ukraine to separatists, is a significant concession to Vladimir Putin.

With debates ongoing in the US about supplying weapons to the Ukrainian government, and the separatists having made large gains recently, the two countries plan to convince Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that his last chance to restore stability has arrived. Meanwhile, negotiators told Mr Putin that he can expect new sanctions from the European Union, and tried to convince him to prevent a further escalation of the conflict.

Many media also report on the visit that is set today in Moscow where the Franco-German couple will reaffirm that they do not want a war. In La Croix’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Ploquin notes that even though “the Hollande-Merkel tandem should not impress Vladimir Putin, it can help him realise the concern that the conflict generates in Europe.” © European Union, 2015

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