President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has positioned himself at the center of Europe’s furious diplomatic maneuvering over Ukraine, landed in Russia on Monday to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin amid growing fears over the Kremlin’s military buildup.
Later on Monday, President Biden was scheduled to hold his first meeting with Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in the hope of strengthening Western nations’ response to Mr. Putin’s demands for a rollback of NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, which he has brought to a head by massing 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders in what officials there view as preparation for a full-scale military assault.
With the Biden administration staking out a hard line against Moscow, Germany so far lying low and Mr. Putin seemingly determined to force a solution to Russia’s security grievances, Mr. Macron has emerged as a key player in Europe’s attempts to ease one of the continent’s gravest security crises since the end of the Cold War. He was scheduled to continue his diplomatic outreach on Tuesday with a visit to Ukraine and a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
Mr. Macron has urged a more conciliatory approach toward Mr. Putin, who has called the French president a “quality interlocutor,” according to a senior official in the French presidency, speaking on the condition of anonymity in keeping with French government practice.
On Monday, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the Kremlin expected “a very substantive and lengthy conversation” during a meeting and working dinner, which would be followed by a joint news conference.
“Of course, the situation is too complicated to expect some breakthroughs as a result of just one meeting,” Mr. Peskov said. “But we know, and Macron told Putin that he will bring some ideas that could help de-escalate tensions, and that he plans to share these ideas.”
French officials said that in his meetings with Mr. Putin and Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Macron would seek to use the Normandy Format — a grouping of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia — to bolster the 2015 Minsk 2 agreement that secured a cease-fire between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. They also said that Mr. Macron, in close consultation with Mr. Biden, would try to secure a concrete signal of de-escalation that reverses the Russian military buildup. Russia has denied plans for an invasion.
In an interview published on Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche, a French newspaper, Mr. Macron said that he did not believe Russia’s goal was to seize Ukraine, but to “clarify the rules of cohabitation” with NATO and the European Union. Russia has called for Western countries to scale back their presence in Eastern Europe to mid-1990s levels. Mr. Macron said that Russia had a right to seek security guarantees, while emphasizing that “efficient and lasting dialogue” with Russia would not lead to the “weakening” of regional states that fear Russian aggression.
“The security and the sovereignty of Ukraine or of any other European state cannot be compromised in any way, while it is also legitimate for Russia to ask about its own security,” Mr. Macron said.
Mr. Macron’s diplomatic efforts have placed him front and center on perhaps the biggest stage of his presidency, just two months before elections in France, and given him an opportunity to put some flesh on his sometimes grandiose visions for a Europe allied with, but more independent of, the United States.
His stance has sometimes been in contrast to that of the United States, which has rejected Mr. Putin’s main security demands outright. Last week, Mr. Biden ordered the deployment of 3,000 additional U.S. troops to help secure NATO allies in Eastern Europe, although he has emphasized that he will not send forces to Ukraine.
Russia has accused the United States of instigating tensions. On Monday, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said that Washington and its British allies were demonizing Moscow in order “to divert public attention from domestic political crises, invest billions of dollars into arming ‘fragile democracies’ and use the situation to reinforce their ‘invincible’ image, which has been frayed by the debacle in Afghanistan.”