French President Emmanuel Macron is looking to reverse a string of disappointing diplomatic forays by approaching China with a plan that he believes could potentially lead to talks between Russia and Ukraine.  

Macron has tasked his foreign policy adviser Emmanuel Bonne to work with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to establish a framework that could be used as a basis for future negotiations, according to people familiar with the plans.  

The French strategy envisions talks between Russia and Ukraine happening as soon as this summer if all goes well, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.On his recent trip to China, the French president fell short of his goal to convince Xi to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — the two still haven’t spoken since the war broke out more than a year ago. Macron also infuriated allies last year after he said allies shouldn’t “humiliate” Russia. 

It’s not clear if Macron has support for his plan from Kyiv and its allies, many of whom have dismissed cease-fire proposals that would allow Russia to keep territorial gains. Many nations are also skeptical that China can serve as a neutral intermediary given its “no-limits friendship” with Russia. The countries have repeatedly pledged to strengthen ties, including a call on Monday to boost cooperation between their militaries.  

An official from Macron’s office confirmed the plan for Bonne to speak to Wang but declined to comment on the details, adding that France’s allies have been informed of any French initiative. In response to questions, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the source of the information and “difficult to verify the authenticity.”

Spring Offensive

Any future negotiations would be dependent on several conditions, including a successful Ukrainian spring offensive that would put Kyiv in a position of strength during any talks, according to the people. 

Some European officials worry that dangerously high expectations have been placed on any Ukrainian counteroffensive, which may not be decisive enough for Kyiv to liberate all the territory Russia has occupied. A more realistic target is a 30 kilometer (20 mile) or so advance in the south that would put Ukraine’s most capable artillery within range of Russian supply lines and create the conditions for a deeper push in 2024, Bloomberg previously reported.

This means Ukraine’s allies would need to ramp up support to enable future offensives to win back more occupied territory or that any potential ceasefire negotiations before that time could see Russia remain entrenched in significant swathes of Ukrainian territory.    

Macron has previously said that he sees a major role for China and that thanks to its relationship with Russia it could “bring Moscow back to reason.” Beijing so far hasn’t shown signs that it’s willing to pressure Moscow to withdraw troops.

Top diplomats from the Group of Seven nations — including France — this week endorsed Zelenskiy’s “Peace Formula,” which includes the complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.