Q. – First of all, how do you feel about the referendum result? 96.6% – it smacks of old times and the USSR…
THE MINISTER – You’ve said it: it’s a Soviet result, but above all this referendum has absolutely no value because it’s contrary to the Ukrainian constitution and contrary to international law. Let’s be very clear: it’s the most serious crisis since the end of the Cold War. Why is it extremely serious? Because if a country – in this case Russia – can lay its hands on a region, it means no borders in the world are secure any longer, and it may cause appalling conflicts.
Q. – One gets the feeling that Vladimir Putin is defying Europe and defying the West and that, in the face of it, the measures taken are somewhat lukewarm…
THE MINISTER – I don’t think so. In such a serious crisis, the line we’ve chosen with the French President is to be firm – because otherwise, what you say will happen – and, at the same time, to try and maintain dialogue.
Firstly, we must condemn what’s been done. We’ve done that; we’ve condemned it. And you’ve seen that the Americans have done it and that the Chinese have also dissociated themselves from the Russians.
Secondly, we must adopt sanctions: 11 figures are affected by the sanctions adopted by the Americans; 21 figures are affected by the sanctions adopted by the Europeans. Thirdly, we must support Ukraine. This means that on Friday the political aspect of an an association agreement with Ukraine will be signed and that we’re also going to help the country economically and financially. And fourthly, we must propose paths of dialogue: we’re proposing that the OSCE be able to send observers and that there be elections in Ukraine.
On the basis of all that, we absolutely want firmness to prevail, Mr Putin not to be able to go further and, at the same time, we want de-escalation through dialogue.
Q. – On that point, let’s talk about the red line, the line beyond which the West will be spurred into acton. What will happen if Vladimir Putin tomorrow annexes eastern Ukraine, the region of Donetsk and Kharkiv, which are also Russian-speaking regions? What would prevent him from doing that?
THE MINISTER – On the one hand, the increase in sanctions which may affect the economy – that is, the heart of the Russian machine. Secondly, beyond a certain limit, there will be reactions, including through force. Ukraine has already decided to mobilize a number of people.
We can’t let things just happen. I’d like to draw your attention to another point which has never been emphasized. Ukraine had nuclear weapons; it was the world’s third-largest nuclear power. In 1994 it gave up those nuclear weapons. That was fine, provided its integrity was guaranteed by three countries: Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. But one of the countries that guaranteed its integrity, namely Russia, is, on the contrary, violating it. That’s extremely serious. Why? Because it means that many countries in the world will tell themselves that the only way to be protected is to have nuclear weapons.
So whether it’s the fact that international law has been violated, whether it’s the fact that you can’t take a country against its will, or whether it’s the fact that this encourages the spread of nuclear weapons, in every respect Putin must stop.
Q. – Let’s talk about concrete consequences: two warships sold to the Russians are currently under construction in Saint-Nazaire, helicopter carriers which we’re going to sell to them for €1.2 billion. Are you going to cancel this sale?
THE MINISTER – That comes under the third level of sanctions. For the time being, we’re at the second level. If Mr Putin continues, then we can consider cancelling those sales. It’s detrimental to the French, that must be clearly understood, but we’ll then ask others – I’m thinking in particular of the British – to do the equivalent with the Russian assets of oligarchs in London. Sanctions must be shouldered by everyone.
Q. – In a few weeks’ time, in May, 400 Russian sailors are coming to Saint-Nazaire to carry out exercises on these ships. Are you going to welcome them or are you going to turn them back at the border?
THE MINISTER – At that point, if we’ve moved to stage three of the sanctions, they won’t be able to come. If, at that point, the de-escalation has got under way, they’ll be able to come. (…)./.