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Does France's Macron Have The Clout To Make Putin Budge On Ukraine?

The French president wants to convince Vladimir Putin to halt military deployment around Ukraine. But some in Moscow believe the Russian president is only interested in negotiating with the U.S. about the wider global balance of power.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron speaking with a group of people in Brussels

French President Emmanuel Macron is headed to Moscow today and Kyiv tomorrow

Yves Bourdillon and Benjamin Quenelle


PARIS"If you invite a Russian bear to dance, it is not you who decides the end of the dance, it is the bear.”

This old Russian saying, recalled by a French diplomat, underlines the delicate nature of the mediation French President Emmanuel Macron is attempting this week on the Ukrainian crisis.

President Macron is meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Monday afternoon in Moscow. He will go on to Kyiv the next day to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Macron separately phoned the two leaders Thursday evening and spoke on Friday with U.S. President Joe Biden and then with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

Key to deescalation

It will be a question of finding the route to de-escalation, given that for the last three months at the border with Ukraine, Russia has amassed around 110,000 soldiers, hundreds of missiles, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.

"We are not going to obtain unilateral movements," the French president said Sunday in an interview with Journal du Dimanche daily. "But it is essential to avoid a deterioration of the situation" before establishing reciprocal mechanisms and gestures of trust.

However, a Russian journalist, well acquainted with the Kremlin, believes that Putin won’t take his French counterpart very seriously. In Putin’s eyes, the only interlocutor that counts is the White House, with whom the Russian leader can discuss his aims that go beyond Ukraine: the reorganization of the entire global security architecture. The Kremlin wants to use the risk of war in Ukraine to open a "new era in international relations," with the help of China, and to erase the Russian geopolitical setbacks since the dissolution of the USSR.

The Kremlin will have to present any compromise as a Russian victory.

A European observer adds that the French president could "obtain some progress on Ukraine, a subject within his reach" in the framework of the negotiations of the so-called Normandy format [Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France] devoted to the sole Ukrainian separatist region of Donbass.

But according to Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian think tank Russian Council, "the Kremlin will have to present any compromise as a Russian victory because, after weeks of tension with the West, Vladimir Putin cannot afford to get no results."

File photo of French President Emmanuel Macron welcoming Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Dec. 9, 2019

File photo of Macron welcoming Putin in Paris, France on Dec. 9, 2019

Gao Jing/Xinhua/ZUMA

Bluff or invasion, clock is ticking

These discussions are taking place against a backdrop of growing tensions. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russia is stepping up preparations for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It already has 70% of the necessary equipment.

The 60 Russian tactical battalions deployed since November in Crimea and Belarus, near the eastern Ukrainian border, have recently been reinforced by 20 additional units. Fourteen new battalions from the rest of Russia are also in transit. And a squadron of Sukhoi-25 ground attack aircraft, key to an offensive, arrived in Belarus on Saturday from the Russian Far East. On another front, a Russian fleet has been deployed in the Black Sea, including five amphibious landing vehicles. Six others are on their way from the Baltic Sea.

U.S. intelligence believes that Putin may not have made up his mind yet, but wants to give himself the means to weigh all the options: intimidation and bluffing, absorption of the separatist enclave of Donbass, or full-scale invasion. In this case, the Russian army could surround Kyiv and overthrow President Zelensky in 48 hours, according to these officials. This conflict could cause an exodus of one to five million refugees, mainly to Poland.

Meanwhile, the potential ramifications extend well beyond the region. Some investors believe the risk of a major war in Eastern Europe is being underestimated by financial markets. With Macron's diplomatic blitz, we may know more this week — or we may not.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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