Q. – On 16 March, the referendum in Crimea is expected to take place. If that referendum leads to Crimea joining Russia, what will Europe do?
THE MINISTER – There will be sanctions, because the vote is illegal and Russia’s annexation of Crimea would also be illegal. We can’t accept something which is illegal and which, at the same time, will have very serious consequences because it will lead to Ukraine’s destabilization.
Ukraine is between the European Union and Russia. Stability is in the interest of Russia, the EU and Ukraine, but Russia’s action has clearly turned everything upside down.
Q. – And what would the nature of the sanctions be?
THE MINISTER – The sanctions may be taken as early as this week. I spoke to John Kerry on the telephone yesterday. I’d already spoken to my Chinese, Polish, German and Ukrainian colleagues. We adopted an initial set of sanctions.
Our position is one of firmness and the search for dialogue. We’ve sent the Russians a proposal, via John Kerry, so that there can be de-escalation. They haven’t answered yet. If they give a positive answer, John Kerry will go to Moscow and then the sanctions won’t be immediate. If they don’t answer or if they give a negative answer, then a set of sanctions may be adopted as early as this week, which will consist in freezing personal assets of [certain] Russians and Ukrainians, and travel sanctions in the area of visas.
Q. – Is Europe united on the details of those sanctions?
THE MINISTER – Yes.
Q. – Totally?
THE MINISTER – Yes, and it’s absolutely essential. There are countries that are more or less close to Ukraine, but if we want to be more effective in relation to this clear violation of international law, Europe must be united. It has been in the initial phase; it will be in the second one.
Q. – Germany was betting more on a compromise vis-à-vis Ukraine; France was taking a tougher stand…
THE MINISTER – We’re in the middle of what’s called the “Weimar Triangle” – that is, Germany, Poland and France. Germany is seeking a diplomatic solution – and it’s right to do so – particularly given its culture and its geographical ties. Poland is also seeking a diplomatic solution, but clearly, given its experience, it’s being tougher. We’re something of a bridge between those. We’re adopting a firm attitude, providing for sanctions because the Russians’ behaviour is unacceptable and contrary to international law. But at the same time, we want a political solution. So we’re proposing ways towards de-escalation. The Russians will or won’t take them.
In any case, the 16 March vote in Crimea, if it takes place, will have no legitimacy. The only legitimate vote is the 25 May vote to elect the president of Ukraine.
Q. – On that very point, on the Ukrainian side, do you have confidence in the current new Ukrainian government?
THE MINISTER – Yes. On 20 February, my German and Polish colleagues and I went to Kiev to stop the massacres that were taking place between Ukrainians, and we succeeded. During the discussion we had with Mr Yanukovych, we examined the issue of who would be prime minister, because we understood clearly that the majority was going to collapse. It was obvious to us, including to Mr Yanukovych, that the prime minister was going to be Mr Yatsenyuk. So this prime minister was accepted, including by Mr Yanukovych. So when the Russians say this government has no legitimacy, that’s false: the government was established legitimately by the Rada, i.e. the Ukrainian parliament. The interim government has full legitimacy until the 25 May elections.
Q. – Kiev is currently placing its oligarchs in the east of the country, the same oligarchs who were shouted down in Independence Square. Aren’t you afraid that a form of pragmatism might override grand ideals?
THE MINISTER – It’s necessary to be pragmatic too, and it’s clear that the current government in Ukraine is seeking to create the broadest unity. So it’s not just taking its supporters, it’s trying to rally people together, and among those rallying efforts it’s appealing to what I’d call well-off people. I completely understand that.
It’s wrong to accuse this government of being far-right. There are three members of the Svoboda [Freedom] party, which is a more right-wing party than the others, but the extreme right isn’t in the government. (…)./.