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French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Romania Tuesday night to visit some 500 French troops deployed there. A subsequent visit to Moldova is planned for Wednesday, followed by a potential visit to Kyiv.
Addressing French troops at a NATO base in Romania, Macron said: “It is on the eastern front where we can defend Europe as war is being waged once again.”
“Collectively what we have done together – what France has been able to build through you – is a sense of commitment, a commitment to protecting Europe," Macron said. "Because in being able to act so fast and effectively you have been able to bolster our current partnerships but also build what is probably the longest and most precious thing that can tie nations and armies together and that is trust.”
Macron's Élysée Palace office said the visit would send "a clear message of our commitment to our NATO allies and European partners" following Russia's invasion of neighbouring Ukraine – highlighted by France's 500-strong deployment in Romania.
There have even been press reports, unconfirmed so far, that Macron could make his first visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv since the assault began in February, alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
France has about 500 soldiers on the ground in Romania and deployed a surface-to-air missile system as part of a NATO battle group it heads there. Macron's visit is meant to show France's support for two of the countries most exposed to events in Ukraine, according to a French official.
Macron has been criticised by Ukraine and eastern European allies after published interviews earlier this month quoting him as saying it was vital not to "humiliate" Russia, so that when the fighting ends there could be a diplomatic solution to the war.
The French president has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly since the February 24 invasion as part of efforts to achieve a ceasefire and begin a credible negotiation between Kyiv and Moscow, although he has had no tangible success to show for it.
Defending Macron's position, the Élysée Palace has stressed that there will have to be a negotiated solution to the war. It noted that Paris was a key backer of sanctions and provided strong military support to Ukraine.
Some eastern and Baltic partners in Europe see Macron keeping a dialogue open with Putin as undermining efforts to push the Kremlin chief to the negotiating table.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)