Q. – On Ukraine, you mentioned the possibility of a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. What are the conditions for your going to Moscow with the Defence Minister? (…)
THE MINISTER – Between now and Tuesday, a number of factors can and will come into play. First of all, just before meeting Eamon, I was on the telephone to John Kerry, Ban Ki-moon and other colleagues to take stock of the situation in Ukraine and the contacts there are going to be between today and Sunday. The American Secretary of State is going to meet Sergei Lavrov. I myself speak regularly to all the protagonists in this serious matter.
And then there’s the referendum planned for Sunday in Crimea, which is entirely contrary to international law – we must be clear – and where people aren’t being given a choice: it’s a choice between “yes” and “yes”. When you look at the propaganda being conducted, you can see clearly why the international authorities, like ourselves, have already said the result of the ballot is null and void. So we’d like the referendum not to be held, but at the same time we’re well aware the wheels are turning.
We’ll be meeting on Monday – we have a Foreign Affairs Council – and we’ll see what decisions we take: there are a number of sanctions on the table, with a whole series of elements that may affect people and their assets, the international economic relations we have with the various players, the prospects for the G8, and relations between the European Union and Russia.
And then, as regards Tuesday, in line with what the French President and the Russian President discussed, I’m expected to go to Moscow with my colleague the Defence Minister, but only insofar as it’s useful.
France’s position, which is also shared by many countries (…) is to be both firm – because you can’t deem acceptable an action which defies international law and ultimately overturns borders, with a whole series of possible consequences that are extremely serious – and, at the same time, we want to get back to the path of dialogue in order to achieve de-escalation. It’s very difficult, but if France can contribute to this it will, and this would be the purpose of our visit on Tuesday.
Q. – Do you think Mr Putin is taking seriously the sanctions you’re currently discussing with your colleagues?
THE MINISTER – We’d like the solution found to respect both Ukrainians’ wishes and international law. Ukrainians’ wishes will be expressed when Ukrainians can vote freely. So there will have to be a presidential election; the date of 25 May has been proposed. Even so, when my colleague Mr Lavrov says there’s no need for a presidential election because it’s Mr Yanukovych who is president, you have to be serious: I was sitting opposite Mr Yanukovych in February.
I also want to make it clear that, just as some people – I’m thinking of the Russians in particular – are contesting the validity of Mr Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister, in the discussion I had with my German and Polish colleagues, the opposition representatives and, on the other side, Mr Yanukovych, the latter accepted that the Prime Minister would be Mr Yatsenyuk.
So, today, when people come and tell us that this government, which was elected by the Rada – the Ukrainian assembly – supposedly isn’t legitimate…
Our position is to say that it’s going to be necessary for the Ukrainians to vote, freely, with international monitoring of course, and the sooner the better.
At the same time, international law must be respected. A country exists – Ukraine –, which is sovereign, and which geographically and historically is close to the European Union and close to Russia.
We mustn’t dispute how things are: geography and history exist. So it’s only natural for the Russian-speakers to play their full part – this isn’t at issue. But the views and votes of all Ukraine’s electorate must be respected and a path to peace and development found for Ukraine, which can choose its own future.
I’ve always considered this choice not to be a matter of “either/or”, but that there’s a place for both the Russians – who are nearby, who have a historical influence – and, at the same time, for the European Union, since Ukraine happens to be in Europe.
This is the path of reason, and Eamon, I and others are going to try to go down this path and we hope the Russians will understand that, in the end, it’s in their interest too. It is in Russia’s interest for Ukraine to be in sound economic health – unfortunately, today, it’s in very great difficulty –, for it to be a country where the majority and the minorities are respected, and for it to be a country which can evolve in the international concert of nations.
So, firmness and, at the same time, a desire for dialogue./.