Q. – Can you confirm Vladimir Putin’s agreement to the creation of a contact group, as the German government has called it, to try and resolve the Ukraine crisis?
THE MINISTER – My information is what my colleague and friend Mr Steinmeier, the German Minister, gave me yesterday evening. After the conversation between Mrs Merkel and Mr Putin, Frank-Walter Steinmeier called me and told me: “the proposal has been made and we’re due to find out more about it tomorrow morning”.
This Monday morning, to my knowledge – according to what Frank-Walter has told me – there’s been no express agreement, and if it were the case it would be a step forward. What do we want in this very difficult situation? On the one hand to halt the Russian intervention, and on the other to establish dialogue – those are the two aspects we’re constantly trying to promote – and we did that throughout the weekend.
Q. – From your viewpoint, has the Russian military intervention already begun? Soldiers without an army can be seen there…
THE MINISTER – Unfortunately Crimea is, de facto, under Russian control.
Q. – Which is already a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
THE MINISTER – Of course. I had many contacts yesterday, Sunday, as did the President, who had a long conversation with, among others, Mr Ban Ki-moon. Among all my contacts, the most heartbreaking was a telephone conversation I had with Mr Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian Prime Minister.
I asked him what we could do to help them. I found a man – and it was heartrending to hear his voice – who has just come to power, with the new majority, and who sees that even though calm has returned to Kiev, his country is undergoing a foreign intervention. It was extremely moving.
So we’re trying to halt the Russian intervention and also conduct dialogue.
Q. – To halt it through diplomacy? Is that the only weapon we have?
THE MINISTER – Through diplomacy, of course.
Q. – Isn’t it possible to envisage military support for Ukraine?
THE MINISTER – No. We’re absolutely not at that stage. Halting this through diplomacy comes about through three channels: NATO, which has met and adopted a number of positions. It’s also the G7 – i.e. the world’s seven richest countries –, which is going to publish a statement picking up on the ideas put forward by France. Thirdly, I’m back in Brussels with my European foreign minister colleagues. We’re going to adopt principled positions and make progress on a number of proposals, and Mrs Ashton will be in Kiev tomorrow on our behalf.
The whole of diplomacy is coming together – the G7, the EU and NATO – to try and block the Russian intervention, but at the same time to establish dialogue; that’s the purpose of the mediation proposal we made. Who might conduct that mediation? It could be the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a body that is talked about little but brings together all the countries of Europe and, more broadly, comprises 57 countries, a body that usually sends observers – which could be valuable, particularly in Crimea – and can play a mediation role. And there can be this contact group we talked about with the Germans, and we’re going to see if the Russians agree to it; or else it could be the United Nations.
Q. – Are you yourself in touch with, for example, your Russian counterpart?
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course. I’ve spoken to him on the phone several times, and he’s due to come to France the day after tomorrow, because France will be hosting a meeting on Lebanon. We often speak over the phone.
Q. – Can Ukraine’s integrity be discussed one way or another, with Crimea’s special role – a lot of strategic Russian military bases…
THE MINISTER – That integrity must be recognized.
Q. – But Crimea has, more or less, an autonomy statute. Is it actually part of Ukraine?
THE MINISTER – If you think from a historical point of view, it’s always the same approach on the Russians’ part. They believe that those countries which, at one time or other, belonged to their empire mustn’t, in a way, be beyond control. In the case of Crimea, they already have a base in Sevastopol, and given what happened in Ukraine with the departure of Yanukovych, they want to take control of Crimea again. Clearly this is unacceptable in terms of international law. But what I want to say is that the Ukrainians – and I talked to Mr Yatsenyuk about this – must provide reassurance: in other words, recognize the specific identity of Russian speakers, who are very numerous in Ukraine, and also provide safeguards.
Q. – Vladimir Putin secured the deployment of Russian troops…
THE MINISTER – Authorization.
Q. – Authorization then, on Saturday, by the Russian senate, until the political situation returns to normal, according to the resolution adopted by the senate…
THE MINISTER – That’s a totally vague concept.
Q. – Is it a way of rejecting the current Ukrainian government?
THE MINISTER – Yes. But at the same time, having myself negotiated the 21 February agreement, it recognized the change of government, and in our conversations with Mr Yanukovych…
Q. – Which the Russians haven’t accepted…
THE MINISTER – At the time they accepted the 21 February agreement, but now they say it hasn’t been respected. In our talks with the former president, Mr Yanukovych, the fact that there’s a new prime minister – Mr Yatsenyuk – was expressly mentioned, so this argument on the Russians’ part isn’t pertinent. But it’s always the same historical approach: they don’t accept that a country that was previously subordinate to them can be emancipated. They say the law in that country hasn’t been respected and they use this accusation as a basis to give themselves powers to intervene – we saw it in Georgia in 2008, and at the time people said: “Look! We mustn’t accept the occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia”; they’re still occupied.
Q. – Is Vladimir Putin a dangerous man?
THE MINISTER – I wouldn’t put things in those terms. Russia is a friend, a long-standing partner of France. But international law, the integrity of territories and the unity of territories must be respected.
Q. – Is Russia currently violating international law?
THE MINISTER – The Ukrainians have the right to choose their destiny.
Q. – Is Russia currently violating international law?
THE MINISTER – To move into a country against international law is to violate international law.
Q. – France supplies weaponry to Russia; in particular, there are contracts between France and Russia concerning frigates. Are you going to suspend those contracts?
THE MINISTER – We’re not at that stage yet.
Q. – Is it paradoxical to supply weapons to a country that violates international law?
THE MINISTER – For the moment we’re trying to halt the Russian movement in Ukraine and establish dialogue. As you saw, France was one of the first countries to say: “as for the G8, which must also operate according to international law, we’re suspending our participation”, and I think the other G7 countries are going to do the same.
Q. – This morning, do you have any hope of stopping this military escalation?
THE MINISTER – Yes!
Q. – Do you think the path of diplomacy can contribute anything?
THE MINISTER – Of course. I think it’s very difficult for Crimea, because it’s already, de facto, under Russian control, but Ukraine’s integrity and unity must absolutely be protected. Aned I would add that it’s in Russia’s interest, because Russia is very involved in Ukraine economically. And for Ukraine it’s not about being with either Russia or the European Union. You don’t choose between the two banks of a river; the Seine has its left bank and its right bank, and it must be the same with Ukraine.
Q. – John Kerry is in Kiev tomorrow. Do you expect to go there yourself?
THE MINISTER – John Kerry will be in Kiev tomorrow and he’ll be in Paris the day after. If it’s of any use, I’ll go there again. (…).