Emmanuel Macron has painted the bleakest of pictures for the future of Ukraine. After a chilling conversation with President Putin earlier today, Macron warned that Moscow is determined to control the whole of the country and “the worst it yet to come.”

This time there was no trip to the Kremlin’s oversized table for the French President. Instead, Macron attempted to reason with Putin during a 90-minute phone call in which the Russian President accused Kyiv of using human shields and reiterated his determination to seek the “de-nazification of Ukraine”. He also declared that Russia was prepared to “neutralise” Ukraine, either diplomatically or by force. 

While the talk was initiated by Putin, he was certainly offering no olive branch. On the contrary, it seemed more of an attempt to demonstrate just how unfazed he is by the West’s extensive sanctions. 

Macron warned Putin that he was making a “major mistake”, deluding himself about the government in Kyiv, and that the war would cost an isolated and weakened Moscow dearly in the long term.

But according to Macron’s presidential adviser, who gave reporters a read-out of the call: “There was nothing in what President Putin said that could reassure us.”

The exchange took place as citizens in Mariupol, a strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine, remain trapped by intense shelling. Mariupol city council leaders have accused Russian forces of creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” and “blocking us like in old Leningrad” by attacking rail links and cutting off water, power and food supplies. 

In the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, the bodies of at least 22 civilians have been recovered from the rubble after a Russian airstrike hit two schools and residential buildings. 

The conflict is also inflicting a heavy cost on Russians, on the front line and at home. According to Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, 9,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed in the fighting – a figure EU officials deem to be accurate. 

And fear is growing that Putin could be preparing to impose martial law on the country during an emergency parliamentary session tomorrow, as public anger at Russia’s offensive mounts. 

Martial law would allow the Kremlin to close borders and intern all foreigners. Tatyana Stanovaya, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said this would also enable Putin “to exert complete control over the media, gag those opposing the war, shut down the internet without any pretence and jail everyone who says or writes the wrong things.”

Around 7,000 Russians have already been arrested during country-wide anti-war demonstrations over the past week. 

Moscow is also taking steps to prevent citizens leaving the country, banning them from from travelling abroad with over £7,500. Thousands are already thought to have fled. 

At least the two sides are still talking, albeit with little success. Ukrainian and Russian delegates met on the Belarusian-Polish border for the second round of peace talks today. The Ukrainian delegation is asking for humanitarian corridors to allow urgent supplies into cities and trapped civilians out and refused to yield to Moscow’s ultimatiums. 

Yet according to the Kremlin’s account of the call, Putin told Macron that any attempts to slow the talks process would “only lead to additional demands on Kyiv in our negotiating position”. Bleak indeed.