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Can Macron, Scholz and Johnson stop Putin from invading Ukraine?

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Macron, Johnson and Scholz are trying to prove themselves on the world stage and send specific signals to their domestic constituents. But they also share the same overarching goal: to stop a looming ground war involving Russia on the European continent.

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Whether they will succeed is unclear. Many European governments had made a deliberate choice to keep their embassy staffs in Ukraine while other countries were evacuating some of theirs in the past days and weeks. But as U.S. officials warned Friday that Putin could invade Ukraine within the week, one country after another told its nationals to leave immediately.

When Russia last invaded Ukraine, in 2014, it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her fluent Russian and more than a decade of experience in dealing with Vladimir Putin, who naturally took the lead in shepherding a European response with sanctions. And it was Merkel and French President Franxc3xa7ois Hollande who eventually brokered a peace deal with the Minsk agreement. But now, as Europe faces its first security crisis since Merkelxe2x80x99s departure in December, the absence of her influence is being felt.

Olaf Scholz tries to find his footing

Although Scholz is only a few months into the job, being chancellor of the European Unionxe2x80x99s most populous nation and biggest economy automatically conveys clout. His approach has often mirrored Merkelxe2x80x99s cautious style, and as her finance minister and vice chancellor, he built a reputation as a steady hand during crises.

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But the standoff over Ukraine has been a high-stakes test for the new leader.

His coalition government has struggled to agree on a joint approach xe2x80x94 on the tone to take with Moscow, on potential sanctions, on whether the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany should be used as leverage. In a leaked cable, the German ambassador in Washington, Emily Haber, warned Berlin that it was increasingly being perceived in the United States as an xe2x80x9cunreliable partner,xe2x80x9d Der Spiegel reported.

Scholzxe2x80x99s flurry of diplomacy is no doubt aimed, in part, to counter that impression. At a news conference at the White House on Monday, he said that his country was xe2x80x9cabsolutely unitedxe2x80x9d with the United States and other NATO allies and asserted that xe2x80x9cwe will not be taking different steps.xe2x80x9d Still, he avoided making any direct statements about Nord Stream 2. It was Biden who delivered the forceful message: xe2x80x9cIf Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.xe2x80x9d

Some in Merkelxe2x80x99s camp have drawn a contrast between Scholzxe2x80x99s performance and the former chancellorxe2x80x99s studied competence. It would be good xe2x80x9cif Olaf Scholz consulted Angela Merkel,xe2x80x9d said Markus Sxc3xb6der, the head of the smaller sister party of Scholz and Merkelxe2x80x99s Christian Democrats.

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Germanyxe2x80x99s new chancellor just needs time to find his feet, said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States and the chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

xe2x80x9cIxe2x80x99m sure Olaf Scholz regrets more than anyone else that he had to start his mission at a moment of extreme international attention,xe2x80x9d Ischinger said.

He noted that when Macron was elected to the French presidency in 2017, he was the xe2x80x9cnew kid on the block,xe2x80x9d while Merkel had already served for about a decade.

xe2x80x9cShe knew everybody around the world, and she was known to everyone around the world,xe2x80x9d he said. xe2x80x9cAnd Emmanuel Macron had to make his first phone calls. That creates an unequal relationship for a while.xe2x80x9d

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The Ukraine crisis is likely to explode or be resolved before Scholz is able to make those connections.

Emmanuel Macron as Putinxe2x80x99s interlocutor

Long overshadowed on the international stage by Merkel, Macron has claimed a central role in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. He has been pushing for a diplomatic resolution through what is known as xe2x80x9cNormandy Formatxe2x80x9d talks xe2x80x94 involving France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia. And in addition to his 5xc2xbd-hour meeting with Putin in Moscow, he has spoken to the Russian leader multiple times by phone in recent days, including for more than an hour on Saturday.

xe2x80x9cItxe2x80x99s a moment of war and peace, a moment of history thatxe2x80x99s happening in Europe xe2x80x94 and he cherishes these moments, when he thinks everything is at stake, and he wants to get involved,xe2x80x9d said Joseph de Weck, the author of a book on Macron.

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De Weck added: xe2x80x9cI think he would act exactly the same wayxe2x80x9d if there wasnxe2x80x99t a French presidential election in two months.

When he met with Putin on Monday, Macron struck a conciliatory tone that surprised some observers. He called Russia a xe2x80x9cfriendxe2x80x9d and asserted: xe2x80x9cTherexe2x80x99s no security for the Europeans if there is no security for Russia.xe2x80x9d

Some observers raised questions about whether Macron might be going rogue. And it is true that he wants Europe to stake out greater independence from the United States on security issues. But he has been consulting regularly with President Biden and with his European allies. On both sides of the Atlantic, there seems to be a concerted effort to avoid the sort of surprise and anger that followed the Biden administrationxe2x80x99s move to share sensitive nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia, which effectively canceled an earlier agreement between Australia and France.

Macron also followed his Moscow meeting by issuing a joint declaration with Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda, warning that xe2x80x9cany further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.xe2x80x9d

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On Saturday, he told Putin xe2x80x9csincere dialogue was not compatible with escalation,xe2x80x9d according to the French government summary of the call.

xe2x80x9cMacron dreams of repeating the feat of Nicolas Sarkozy,xe2x80x9d said Marc Endeweld, the author of several books on French foreign policy and Macron. When Sarkozy was president in 2008, he managed a diplomatic resolution of the crisis between Georgia and Russia. Endeweld noted that then, as now, France held the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union.

French government officials have been eager to convey that Macronxe2x80x99s efforts are helpful. In a briefing with journalists, a senior French official recalled Putin saying that Macron is xe2x80x9cthe only one with whom he could have such in-depth disc

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But as Emre Peker of the Eurasia Group noted in a risk-assessment memo: xe2x80x9cThe Kremlin also made clear after the Macron-Putin meeting that the US is Russiaxe2x80x99s primary dialogue partner on European security.xe2x80x9d

Boris Johnson sets out to prove himself and xe2x80x98Global Britainxe2x80x99

The departure of Britain from the European Union has made it harder for the country to claim the title of leader of Europe. But that didnxe2x80x99t stop Johnson from boasting that he and his government were xe2x80x9cbringing the West togetherxe2x80x9d on Ukraine.

Britain undoubtedly plays an outsize role in military support for Ukraine. It has supplied 2,000 antitank weapons, provided training for 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers and committed $110 million to bolster the Ukrainian navy.

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Johnson has emphasized that British soldiers will not fight in Ukraine. But he is sending 350 Royal Marines to Poland. And when meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, the prime minister said he offered to double the British troop numbers in Estonia, deploy more Royal Air Force jets to southern Europe and dispatch a destroyer and offshore patrol vessel to the eastern Mediterranean.

Johnson said this was xe2x80x9cprobably the most dangerous momentxe2x80x9d in what he described as xe2x80x9cthe biggest security crisis Europe has faced for decades.xe2x80x9d

For Johnsonxe2x80x99s government, the Ukraine crisis offers an opportunity to prove that post-Brexit Britain is still a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.

The countryxe2x80x99s withdrawal from the E.U. limited its opportunities to be a transatlantic bridge. But Britain remains one of the dominant military powers in NATO and Europe, alongside the United States and France, and is a member of the xe2x80x9cFive Eyesxe2x80x9d intelligence alliance.

Britain isnxe2x80x99t reliant on Russian natural gas as some European countries are. It gets about half of its gas from domestic fields in the North Sea, and it imports about a third from Norway.

That xe2x80x9callows Britain a margin of freedom, of maneuverability,xe2x80x9d said Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

But critics say the British governmentxe2x80x99s tough talk is undermined by the fact that London has long been a playground for Russian oligarchs, who pour billions of dollars into the property market.

Johnsonxe2x80x99s ability to devote himself to the Ukraine crisis also is constrained by his situation at home in Britain. On Friday, he received a questionnaire from Scotland Yard, signaling that he is among those personally being investigated for participating in parties that may have violated pandemic lockdown rules.

Adam reported from London and Morris from Berlin.

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