Q. – Three days after President Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, supporters of closer ties with the EU in Ukraine are still angry. The Ukrainian President believes that what’s happening bears all the signs of a coup d’état. What is France’s position?
THE MINISTER – No, it’s not a coup d’état. I’ve seen no military intervention; the hallmarks of a coup d’état aren’t there. France’s position is crystal clear: dialogue and a rejection of repression.
President Yanukovych has taken the position we’re aware of. I was with him and the European leaders in Vilnius a few days ago, and we saw his position on the Association Agreement with the EU. He says, “I’m interested, but you don’t pay enough.” The Association Agreement isn’t about haggling: if you want to be associated with Europe, you associate yourself with Europe. The people’s reaction has been extremely strong and, at the same time, peaceful. We, France, call for dialogue and reject repression.
Q. – Is it really in Kiev that the Association Agreement with the EU is being decided on today?
THE MINISTER – The Ukrainian Prime Minister – if I can put it this way – let the cat out of the bag, because he said the Russian President had made offers: the price of gas, the writing-off of debts etc. That’s not our approach. Ukraine must choose freely. Moreover, there’s no antagonism, there’s no conflict between having an Association Agreement with the EU and being close to Russia. There’s no contradiction.
It’s for the people and the authorities to make their choice, but I repeat: the direction being taken is extremely shocking. For my part, I’ve made it known to Mr Klitschko, who is one of the opposition leaders, that I’m wholly prepared to meet him in Paris.
Q. – For what purpose?
THE MINISTER – To discuss the situation. I’ve talked to Mr Yanukovych; it seems to me natural to talk to the opposition leaders too.
Q. – Do you see Vitali Klitschko as a future leader of Ukraine?
THE MINISTER – He’s already one of the leaders. Afterwards, what happens in the future isn’t for me to decide. It’s true he’s a remarkable man. As you know, he’s been world boxing champion; that’s remarkable in itself. He’s also a man who built his fortune with his fists. He’s got a reputation for being incorruptible, which it seems is something very valuable there. Moreover, he’s a man who believes in democracy.
Once again, it’s not for us to interfere in domestic matters, but let me tell you again: because we’ve met Mr Yanukovych – President Hollande met him again the other day – it also seems to us natural to meet Mr Klitschko, because Ms Tymoshenko is in prison.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Q. – With the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa being held at the end of the week, France is preparing to embark on a new intervention, in the Central African Republic to be precise. First of all, can you tell us when the operation will begin? Do we have a timetable?
THE MINISTER – First of all, this Elysée summit is set to be a great success. More than 30 African heads of state and government have already confirmed they are coming to Paris, at the French President’s invitation. The summit is being organized around three themes: economic development, climate and security.
The issues discussed will obviously include the Central African Republic. A resolution proposed by France is going to be examined and voted on at the United Nations. You have to understand clearly that this won’t at all be the same operation as in Mali.
The goal we’re pursuing, alongside the African forces – which take priority –, is to ensure the Central African Republic is made secure and rebuilt. This means we’ll take action in the humanitarian and security fields and the democratic sphere, so that the country acquires a democratic government. Action will also be taken on development. We’ll stand alongside the Africans, who are engaged in MISCA [AFISM-CAR], and we’d like to act in coordination and in partnership with the Europeans.
Q. – Does rebuilding the Central African Republic mean that France is, among other things, going to force Michel Djotodia, the head of the Séléka rebel coalition, to go?
THE MINISTER – The President is there, despite not having been recognized by the African Union. But Mr Djotodia and Mr Tiangaye, the Prime Minister, are in tandem with each other.
In Paris, it’s the Central African Prime Minister who will be present at the Elysée summit. The Central African authorities are temporary. The United Nations has said that there have to be new elections in February 2015 at the latest. Our action – that of the Africans first, that of MISCA and the international forces – is going to consist in restoring security, which has been seriously endangered. This will involve protecting humanitarian rights, because there are appalling acts of violence. Finally, it will be necessary to prepare for the return to democracy and support the functioning of democracy. In this framework, at any rate, neither the current president nor the Prime Minister can stand [for election] – this has been endorsed.
Q. – There’s a risk today. You’ve talked about implosion in the country, serious escalations as regards the inter-religious conflict…
THE MINISTER – Yes, I think the word “implosion” is fair. Some people have said we’re looking at a “failed state”. Séléka, which is chiefly made up of armed gangs, must be effectively disbanded. People need to be reassured, not only in Bangui but throughout the country. And then these religious conflicts, which don’t square with the Central African tradition, must be avoided.
Q. – A very large majority of Christians…
THE MINISTER – Yes, exactly, but recently we’ve witnessed religious clashes, which are extremely dangerous. Religious leaders are fighting against this. On my visit to the CAR I met the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders. The country must be made secure and rebuilt.
Q. – With this intervention, isn’t France really going to reach the limits of its projection capability?
THE MINISTER – No, firstly because our forces will remain limited in number and aren’t set to stay there in the long term. Moreover, we’re going to reduce our troop numbers in other parts of the world. As you know, France still has the largest armed forces in Europe, with very useful projection forces.
ELYSEE SUMMIT FOR PEACE AND SECURITY IN AFRICA
At the Elysée Summit, we’re going to talk more generally about security in Africa. Africans want – and they’re right – to acquire an African rapid-reaction force.
We’ll talk specifically, on Saturday, about the Central African Republic, since Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, and other leaders will be there. So there will be a section devoted to the Central African Republic.
Q. – A question which is really almost a philosophical one is going to be asked at the Elysée summit: does development enable security or security enable development?
THE MINISTER – The two have to be pursued jointly. Security, without which nothing is possible, has to be established or re-established. But, at the same time, poverty is very often the breeding ground for the acts of violence which take place. Action has to be taken for security and for development.
Q. – Just a word about Syria. There were 50 deaths over the weekend. While we’re dealing with the chemical weapons, how can we prevent people continuing to be killed by conventional weapons?
THE MINISTER – That’s a question I raised when we obtained the decision to get rid of the chemical weapons. Chemical weapons are a big danger, it’s a very good thing to eliminate them, but the people are still being massacred; there’s carnage every day. So the only solution is political: it’s the Geneva II summit, which we’re preparing, in what we must admit are difficult circumstances./.