Q. – What does Mr Putin want in Ukraine? You’ve spoken to him on the telephone 25 times since the beginning of this crisis; twice you’ve met him face to face. What does Mr Putin want?
THE PRESIDENT – Mr Putin doesn’t want to annex eastern Ukraine.
Q. – Are you sure of that?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m certain.
Q. – Has he told you so?
THE PRESIDENT – He’s told me so. Now, I could disbelieve him; I can see what he did in Crimea; it’s not the same thing…
Q. – Doesn’t he want to set up a protectorate?
THE PRESIDENT – What he wants is to remain influential. What Mr Putin wants is for Ukraine not to switch to the NATO camp…
Q. – And will you block this entry of Ukraine into NATO?
THE PRESIDENT – …the idea being, for Mr Putin, not to have a military presence on his borders.
Q. – Of course.
THE PRESIDENT – What we want of Mr Putin is for him to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. What we want of Mr Putin is for him no longer to support the separatists. What we want of Mr Putin is for economic relations to be able to be forged with Ukraine. That’s why I’ve been seeking an agreement for months, because there have been nearly 5,000 deaths. (…)
Q. – Of course.
THE PRESIDENT – People are still dying, people are being displaced, so Europe can’t stand by. And France’s role? We could say to ourselves: “What have we got to do with Ukraine? It’s far away; France is closer to the Mediterranean.” No. France and Germany believed we had to seek a solution. So, on 6 June – you remember the [D-Day 70th anniversary] commemorations – I made sure Putin could meet Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, with Mrs Merkel. And that was the beginning of something, which wasn’t sufficient because war broke out again afterwards.
Q. – And you’re going to Astana on 15 January.
THE PRESIDENT – And I’m going to Astana on 15 January, on one condition, on one condition: namely that there can be fresh progress. If it’s to meet, to talk without there being any steps, it’s not worth it. But I think there will be, because I spoke to Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko and Mrs Merkel before Christmas and we were able to ensure that the prisoners held by both sides could be released, so progress is being made.
(…) The most important issue is that we must talk to Putin; I’ve done that. But at the same time we must talk clearly; we must tell him what we want and what we don’t want. And he himself must be able to stop, and he’s paying dearly enough for it.
Q. – Very dearly.
THE PRESIDENT – Today [there are] sanctions, which people said would have no impact; falling oil prices, which in some respects suit us economically and weaken him; he’s not saying anything about them; of course he doesn’t suggest he’s having the slightest difficulty; he is having difficulties. (…) But if Russia is experiencing a crisis, it’s not necessarily good for Europe either. So I’m not in favour of a policy of making things worse, and I think the sanctions must now stop, must stop in the sense… They must be lifted if there’s progress; if there is no progress, the sanctions will remain. (…)./.