Q. – (…) On Friday the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accused Russia of wanting to start a Third World War. Have things really got to that stage?
THE MINISTER – The situation is very worrying, and it’s true that when people’s nerves are on edge and there are an increasing number of incidents, there can always be a downward slide with incalculable consequences.
In that situation I think France, and Europe more broadly, must pursue three goals: firstly de-escalation. There’s no question of going to war on Russia; it’s pointless. We must issue an appeal for de-escalation, particularly on the Russian and pro-Russian side. Secondly, the presidential election of 25 May must be prepared. The Russians say the Ukrainian government has no legitimacy. We think it has legitimacy, but when you’re in a crisis like the one we’re currently experiencing, you have to manage to get a new leadership resulting from the presidential election. And thirdly, a new constitution must be prepared, and the Ukrainian government is ready for this. So de-escalation, presidential election, new constitution: that’s the path of reason.
Q. – De-escalation doesn’t mean lowering your guard. Does that mean that the sanctions which the European Union and the West in general are preparing are still necessary?
THE MINISTER – Yes, and on Monday 28 April a meeting of Coreper – i.e. the permanent representatives in Europe – is planned, to prepare a new set of sanctions. For their part, the Americans are due to make public a set of sanctions, and if things deteriorate further, there may be another stage.
Q. – A word on those sanctions: will the sanctions – which for the time being are essentially economic – be enough to make Vladimir Putin if not give way then think?
THE MINISTER – That’s the aim. The sanctions take many forms: there was the cancellation of the G8, the interruption of all military cooperation, individual sanctions, visa refusals and cancellations, financial blocks, and the sanctions can also be stepped up. But we must clearly say – and particularly to the Russians – that each country’s sovereignty must be respected. We respect Russian sovereignty; the Russians must respect Ukrainian sovereignty. (…)
Q. – Before talking about the neighbouring countries, though, a word about Crimea: despite the 95% in favour of joining Russia – there was a referendum on 16 March –, is Crimea still part of Russia, for you?
THE MINISTER – The international community has said it doesn’t recognize the annexation. You have to understand that if we accept the idea of a region – because there’s a minority in the region – being able to organize a referendum to be annexed by another country, contrary to the wish of the country it belongs to, it means there are no longer any international borders and there’s no longer any international law. Imagine it happening in China or Africa, where there are different ethnic groups: it would be a source of frightening conflicts – including, by the way, in Russia, where there are composite populations.
Of course there must be decentralization, but minorities’ concerns must also be taken into account – that’s very important – and in particular they must be able to express [themselves in] their different languages: that’s absolutely fundamental. But authorizing a challenge to countries’ sovereignty and not respecting international borders – those are extremely dangerous. (…)
Q. – (…) You’re Foreign Minister, you talk to Russia, we know Vladimir Putin; we also know that the West needs Vladimir Putin. On Syria for example, on Iran too, on very important, very hot topics at the moment…
THE MINISTER – For the time being, there’s no confusion between the different crises. You were talking about Iran. We’re currently talking to Iran to try and find a solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear programme, and we have, on the one side, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany and, on the other side, Iran. And the Russians, for the time being – I hope it will last – are supportive of what we in the P5+1 are doing. So there’s no confusion.
Q. – The issues aren’t being conflated for the time being…
THE MINISTER – For the time being, and that’s very desirable, because as soon as you conflate the issues, it’s not one crisis that would help resolve the other but it’s one crisis that would make solving the other even more difficult.
Q. – A word about European solidarity on the issue: the Europeans are also divided, and among others the Poles and the Baltic countries are being firmer. Do you believe this Ukraine crisis is an important test for European solidarity?
THE MINISTER – Yes, and I have to say that the Europeans have regrouped.
Two examples: on 21 February I went to Kiev with my German and Polish colleagues and we reached an agreement with the Ukrainian side that enabled the bloodbath in Kiev to be prevented. Europe was there and prevented the bloodbath. Today it’s true there are different viewpoints. Out of the 28 EU countries, you have six that depend 100% on Russian gas and 12 that depend [on it] more than 50%.
Clearly those countries are much more sensitive to the threat than other countries which are more independent. And on the issue of sanctions, they can be decided only unanimously, and until now this unanimity has existed. (…)./.