THE PRESIDENT – The bulk of the discussions focused on Ukraine. Why? Because there’s even greater tension than a few days or weeks ago. We met President Poroshenko and his account was useful. Everything suggests that not only is Russia helping the separatists, which isn’t new, but that significant, sophisticated materiel has been supplied and that – although the evidence hasn’t yet been gathered – Russian advisers, if not more than just advisers, are no doubt present with the separatists.
Consequently there’s an escalation, and there must be an appropriate European response. This response consists of both firmness and dialogue, and that’s what France has always done, moreover, since the beginning of this crisis. Firmness means sanctions, which must not only be declared – they have been – but implemented fully and in the long term, or at any rate as long as necessary. Those sanctions can then be increased; both the European Commission and Mrs Ashton were asked to work on this and provide a response in the course of the week, so that the 28 [EU member states] can decide. That’s firmness. But dialogue is still possible, because on Monday there will be a meeting of the contact group. Interesting things have already happened: in Minsk, President Poroshenko saw President Putin, and I myself spoke to the Russian President. So dialogue is still possible, but there must be a basis for dialogue and, above all, there must be a conclusion. That’s why no time must be wasted. This dialogue can’t be suspended or postponed on the pretext that the Russian President is conducting a trip, when people are dying in Ukraine right now and many more may die in the coming days.
Sanctions aren’t being imposed as a punishment: they’re being imposed in order to prevent, pre-empt, and bring the Russians back towards dialogue. As you know, we’ve been talking about the Normandy format since 6 June; this format is still possible, and I myself mentioned it to Vladimir Putin. And this format can be valid only if there’s an outcome to the discussion and negotiation. There are still major risks of escalation; we’ve already reached a particularly dangerous point, which must be the final point. What lies beyond it? A spiral of military operations, the unleashing of the armed forces, one provocation leading to another, and an avalanche that will be increasingly difficult to contain.
This crisis isn’t a matter simply for Eastern Europe, it’s a matter for the world because it’s about Europe, its borders and a country as large as Russia. There was a long discussion, because the same question remains: are sanctions useful and effective? Do they have an impact?
But we shouldn’t frame the issue so simply. If there are no sanctions, what happens? Military operations will have to be conducted. Who could imagine that? And if nothing happens, if nothing is decided, would it mean that – with complete impunity – a country can have its territorial integrity challenged, its unity seriously damaged, and that on the fringes of Europe, in a country that is now associated with Europe, military operations can be carried out? So the path, the solution – and I upheld this position at the European Council, in full agreement with Angela Merkel and others, by the way – is to move towards sanctions. (…)
To conclude, it was an important Council because there were expectations of Europe; it was a key meeting. In the face of [the conflict in] Ukraine, was it going to be a recognition of condemnation but at the same time powerlessness? No: Europe said there are situations that can’t be tolerated on its borders or, more broadly, accepted in a country that has democratic institutions, where the people have voted and where a rule applies, namely territorial integrity. (…)
Q. – I’d gathered that the European Commission had already prepared a number of sanctions. From what you’ve said, I don’t think that’s the case: the European Commission apparently has a week to do so. Can you explain to us how this is going to work, what the timetable is, and how any potential decision is subsequently going to be taken?
THE PRESIDENT – Those are good questions, so I’m going to try and provide the answers. Firstly, yes, for the past few weeks the Commission has been preparing a number of decisions that would be taken only if there was an escalation. So, secondly, the period left to the Commission is particularly short: one week. Let me remind you that in a few days’ time there’s a NATO meeting, so it would be better for the sanctions to have been specified when we meet partners from outside Europe.
Thirdly, will this new scale of sanctions have to be decided by a Council? Yes – not necessarily a European Council: it may be a Council of Ministers or a Council of Permanent Representatives. But there will necessarily be a meeting of Europeans to endorse a new scale of sanctions. (…)
Q. – On Ukraine, have you had a bilateral meeting with President Poroshenko? Has France been asked to supply military materiel? Is it a request you could, or will be able to, satisfy?
THE PRESIDENT – No, nobody’s had any bilateral meetings, because the Council was being held. Some people – notably the European Council President and the Commission President – have had meetings with Mr Poroshenko. I’ve spoken to him on the telephone several times, so we talk to each other. But there’s been no request for military assistance. A request for humanitarian aid was addressed to the European Council.
On military assistance, we can’t imagine today that it would be fruitful, useful, insofar as operations are under way. What we must demand is a ceasefire: it’s not about maintaining a conflict, it’s about stopping it. And that’s also what we’re telling the Russians: not to supply any more materiel or weapons. On that basis, we’ve been notified of no requests. (…)./.