Q. – Vladimir Putin is laying into America and Europe, which, according to him, want to weaken and encircle Russia. He says he’s got the military means to respond to enemies. Are we on a course of war or confrontation with Russia?
THE MINISTER – Clearly we’re in a state of tension – unfortunately, I’d say, because as far as France is concerned we’re very long-standing friends of Russia; that goes back, as you remember, to de Gaulle and even before him.
Q. – Napoleon…
THE MINISTER – But it’s true that Russia has recently made gestures that can’t be tolerated – the annexation of Crimea, for example –, and this creates a climate of tension. We’ve always applied firmness towards Russia and at the same time dialogue. But it takes several, or at least two, to talk. In any case, we’re open to anything that might lead to an easing of tension.
Q. – Is it now a partner or an enemy of France?
THE MINISTER – No, it’s a partner. A difficult partner.
Q. – Alexander Orlov, Putin’s Ambassador to France, who was Thomas Sotto’s guest earlier, is calling for reconciliation. Is an independent France ready for this?
THE MINISTER – France is of course independent, and France is always ready to have good relations with Russia. But in international affairs there are things that are unacceptable, including the behaviour shown on Crimea, and then the tension in the east [of Ukraine].
Nevertheless we have – although I’m being cautious – good news that I’ve been informed of. It appears there should be an agreement on 9 December for a comprehensive ceasefire between the separatists and the Ukrainian authorities. I hope this happens. But we want an easing of the tension, although we can’t stand by and not react.
Q. – If the 9 December ceasefire works, does that mean an independent France will ease the sanctions that are weakening Russia’s economy and pander to Russian nationalism?
THE MINISTER – We’re not at that stage at all. An agreement has been signed, the Minsk agreement, which provides for a whole series of things that would really enable a lasting reduction in tension in Ukraine. It’s this Minsk agreement that must be respected.
Q. – And is France ready for, as Orlov was asking earlier, gestures of reconciliation, [so as] not to isolate Putin and be Putin’s enemy?
THE MINISTER – France has always been open, but at the same time you have to be extremely firm when there are attitudes that are unacceptable. (…)
Q. – Alexander Orlov was talking earlier about the Mistrals, about the Mistral that hasn’t been delivered to Russia as agreed; he was saying Russia barely has patience for a few weeks before it demands compensation. (…) What’s your reply to him?
THE MINISTER – The same as the French President’s: namely that under the present conditions, consideration is suspended. If the conditions change… but that requires in particular the implementation of the Minsk agreement, which I was talking about earlier.
Q. – And the 9 December agreement – if there’s a ceasefire on 9 December – is a positive factor.
THE MINISTER – It’s a factor, but it’s not sufficient./.