Official speeches and statements - May 11, 2022
What’s your initial reaction this evening, following Vladimir Putin’s speech this morning? Are you, in a way, relieved that Putin didn’t officially declare war on Ukraine, that he didn’t go that far today?
THE MINISTER – I’m observing and being pragmatic. From my perspective, there’s nothing new: the Russian aggression is continuing. The war is continuing. It’s continuing in the Donbas, it’s still continuing in Mariupol. The Russian aggression is maintained; the military objectives are the same, be they neutralizing Ukraine, demilitarizing it, denazifying, recovering territories – that hasn’t changed – or the desire to subdue Ukraine and turn it into a kind of rump State; it’s a way of Putin locking himself into war. The war is continuing with its dramatic events, with its trail of tragedies. That’s the reality.
But Putin hasn’t claimed any victory today; isn’t that already, in a way, a victory for the Ukrainians?
If you will, I think that since the start of the war Putin has made four approximations, [made] four strategic errors that have combined and are still combining. The first error was to think Ukraine was going to fall just like that, because it was expected, because first there had been the precedent of Crimea, where we remember pictures of Putin arriving to cheers in Crimea. So he thought that, in particular in the Russian part of Ukraine, the "liberators", in inverted commas, were going to be welcomed and the others could quickly be unseated. That wasn’t the case. First error. On the contrary, Russia’s intervention, President Putin’s war decision has strengthened Ukrainian unity; in a way, he’s created the Ukrainian nation, which is fighting heroically. So that was the first error. And it’s continuing, including in the Russian-speaking areas, including Kharkiv, which still hasn’t fallen and is continuing to fight – I even understand the Ukrainians have retaken some positions around Kharkiv. The second error was to think Europe would be, shall we say, weak, or, to use a common term, "a bit sluggish" in its reaction. The opposite has been true. The Russian aggression has led Europe into an extremely significant process of decisions and unity, with qualitative leaps, if only through the delivery of weapons or the implementation of sanctions that were unpredictable, it seems to me, to President Putin, who thought there would be much more tension and much more disagreement, whereas it’s indirectly bolstered the European Union’s solidity. The third error concerns the Atlantic Alliance, because there have, as you remember, been questions about the Atlantic Alliance over recent years.
Including in France, if I may say so...
Including in France. President Macron very clearly set out the questions, put on the table the issues that had to be discussed... there was doubt about solidarity, including in President Trump’s time; and then others who tended to want to project the Atlantic Alliance beyond the Atlantic – a kind of raising of the stakes. And what actually happened, as a result of the intervention, was that the Alliance returned to its fundamentals, namely collective solidarity in the Euro-Atlantic region. And so there too, President Putin may have imagined there were going to be weaknesses, which didn’t materialize. And the final point – although on this there are experts who will discuss it more knowledgeably than me – is that I think he overestimated his army’s strength and its strategic choices, its military choices; the four elements combined mean we’re in a situation that you’re now aware of, where the four elements combined are leading to the implementation of a war that will be long, that will be difficult, and which we must help the Ukrainians wage. (...)
To be clear, because some countries may have been clearer than France: is France’s aim, is your aim for Ukraine to win the war?
No, that’s not what I said. We must be very clear about things: there’s a war between Russia and Ukraine; there isn’t a war between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance, between Russia and other partners; there’s a single war between an invading country, Russia, and an invaded country which is Ukraine. Ukraine must regain its borders, its autonomy, its sovereignty. That’s the aim...
So, for it to win!
And so for Ukraine to remain in its situation, remain autonomous, retain its territorial space... Well, if you want to call that "winning", so much the better/fine, but at any rate Russia must quite simply withdraw.
At the same time, the French President has said today that we mustn’t humiliate Russia; I don’t know what the Ukrainians will think of that, but what does he mean by using that expression?
No humiliation, no revenge – that’s generally what happens after serious conflicts. The problem then will be negotiation; the negotiation, again, will be negotiation between the Russians and Ukrainians. We mustn’t usurp the role of the negotiators. And today we’re getting down to the job of ensuring Ukraine is in a position to negotiate as effectively as possible, by very strongly supporting Ukraine.
But what does that mean – ensure Ukraine wins without humiliating Russia?
It means that Russia pulls out of the Donbas, pulls out its forces from the Ukrainian territory it is occupying. There’s an invader; the invader must withdraw. If you want to call that a victory, let’s call it a victory, but the invader must withdraw and no longer be present in Ukraine, because Ukraine is an autonomous country which has its pride, which has its own nation which is asserting itself more every day. (...)
But is there a risk of a third world war today?
I believe it’s a narrative of anxiety which Russia has always developed during a period of aggression. They want to intimidate us. The reality is that there’s a war between two States. Full stop. (...)
Are we going to provide further military aid to the Ukrainians? Can you tell us what this aid consists of? Is there also military intelligence?
We’ve been helping the Ukrainians from the outset; the aid has become more diversified because the military approach has changed – we aren’t in the situation we were in when we feared for Kyiv, but the fighting is different now, especially in the Donbas, so there’s a need for more types of artillery-style weapon, which we’re supplying to the Ukrainians significantly, I think, and which the European Union is also supplying to the Ukrainians. What’s very striking – and this is where we see the qualitative leap which has taken place – is that the European Union is now supplying the Ukrainian forces with €2 billion of mostly lethal military aid, because the law has been challenged and one country has invaded another.
But with the other countries helping Ukraine we’re seeing – I won’t say an escalation, but it’s a case of more and more: earlier this evening Joe Biden, the American President, was signing in front of journalists – it’s a US tradition – a law to speed up the shipment of military equipment to Ukraine, a law which hasn’t been activated since the Second World War. The British have also announced that they’re going to increase their military aid; it’s more and more. Is it going to be more and more from us too, as long as the war goes on?
Russia’s change in military strategy is leading us to supply a new type of military equipment. This must continue and we, France, are doing it too. (...)
At what moment do you become a belligerent? You’ve heard Vladimir Putin saying the West has to stop arming Ukraine; otherwise, what? We don’t know. Where would you draw the red line?
We aren’t present on the ground. We don’t have fighters on Ukraine’s side; we’re supplying materiel, full stop.
Presence on the ground dictates the red line.
Presence in the fighting. (...)
And what is France’s role? The special channel of communication between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin is often talked about; that may, incidentally, be why he’s saying today that Russia mustn’t be humiliated. Should we really go on talking to him?
Yes, we’ve got to keep a means of dialogue, a possible vehicle for discussion; it’s what President Macron is trying to do, sometimes with difficulties, because the last few meetings weren’t really very encouraging, as you know, but also because President Zelenskyy is asking President Macron to do it because, as you know, President Putin doesn’t want to talk to President Zelenskyy, whom he deems irresponsible, not representative and therefore not legitimate. And so that link must continue; we’ve also got to go on helping Ukraine, which we’re doing; then, at some point, there’ll be a negotiation.
And how precisely do you negotiate with Vladimir Putin, given his personality?
You always negotiate when there’s a power struggle.
The Ukrainians have got to assess their relationship in the power struggle.
Is now the time?
You’d have to ask Mr. Zelenskyy; I’m not Ukrainian. (...)
Will Vladimir Putin ultimately have to be tried?
The International Criminal Court is mandated to investigate the facts we can see. It has developed documentation tools for conducting the investigation. We ourselves are helping ensure that documents are provided and we’re supporting the International Criminal Court; the Prosecutor has launched this investigation. Then there’ll be a trial, of course. (...)
Is he a war criminal?
That’s for the International Criminal Court to say, not me. (...)