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In a rare phone call, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned his French counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, against deploying troops to Ukraine. This warning came in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement in February that Western troops being sent to Ukraine cannot be ruled out. Shoigu emphasized that sending a French military contingent to Ukraine would create problems for France itself. This call was the first contact between Russian and French defense ministers since October 2022, indicating heightened tensions between the two countries.

Shoigu expressed Moscow’s readiness for dialogue on Ukraine and emphasized that any peace talks would be meaningless without Russia’s involvement. He mentioned a draft document from negotiations in Istanbul in March 2022, which reportedly included Ukraine abandoning its bid to join NATO and remaining neutral. However, no final deal was reached, and the talks collapsed soon after. It is clear that Russia sees itself as a key player in any future negotiations regarding Ukraine and wants to ensure its interests are represented at the table.

During the phone call, Lecornu offered condolences to Shoigu over the deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall on March 22, which claimed 145 lives. Despite evidence pointing to an affiliate of the Islamic State group as responsible for the attack and an advance warning issued by the U.S. to Moscow, Russian officials have tried to link Ukraine and the West to the incident. Shoigu claimed that Moscow has information about a Ukrainian connection to the attack and accused the Kyiv regime of coordinating with Western allies. This accusation further escalates tensions and raises questions about Russia’s intentions in the region.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s version of the call indicated Lecornu’s denial of any Ukrainian involvement in the concert hall attack but also raised suspicions about potential French special services’ involvement. Shoigu’s comment that “the Kyiv regime does nothing without approval of its Western handlers” suggests a deep-seated belief within the Russian government about Western interference in Ukrainian affairs. This narrative aligns with Russia’s broader strategy of painting Ukraine as a puppet of the West, seeking to undermine Kyiv’s sovereignty.

Overall, the phone call between the Russian and French defense ministers highlights the complex dynamics at play in the Ukraine conflict and the broader geopolitical tensions between Russia and Western powers. Russia’s warning against French troop deployment underscores the high stakes involved in any military intervention in the region and the need for diplomatic solutions. The accusations and denials surrounding the Moscow concert hall attack further muddy the waters and illustrate the challenges of finding a path towards peace in Ukraine. It remains to be seen how these developments will impact future negotiations and the overall trajectory of the conflict.

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