EU united while Putin counted on our being divided - Minister

French presidency of the Council of the European Union – Statements by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with Mr Josep Borrell, High Representative of the the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, following the informal meeting of European Union development ministers (excerpts)

Montpellier, 7 March 2022

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Development

THE MINISTER – We – the Europeans all together, “team Europe” – are the leading donors of official development assistance globally. And we’re not saying so. We stand out much more than China or others, than the United States, when it comes to development assistance all over the world, especially but not solely in Africa. And we’re not saying so, because there’s a kind of lack of understanding about what we are, and I think this morning we really took the option of asserting that Europe is that partner and must adapt to the realities of international competition, because development is also about competing influences. We can also see this in certain votes at the United Nations, and we ourselves must avoid exploiting development for political ends or for purposes of subjection, but instead ensure development is a partnership tool that respects the sovereignty of the countries we’re in co-development with, because there are development issues that are necessarily [about acting] in partnership, be it the fight against global warming or the biodiversity challenges we’ve just been talking about.

So I’ve come out of the meeting believing strongly in this realization that Europe is asserting itself as a development power and as being capable of establishing partnerships that avoid subjection or dependency, whereas some others make these their priority.

Ukraine

And obviously we also talked at length about Ukraine, the tragedy that is playing out, which we’re far from seeing the end of, with the financial mobilization Josep Borrell talked about, on humanitarian aid – €500 million that has been announced. France, too, will contribute to this, because at the French President’s request we’ve decided to release €100 million of humanitarian aid for refugees and displaced people. There are also a lot of displaced people on Ukraine’s territory.

And we also decided to support budget finance. Of the €1.2 billion share you mentioned earlier, France will mobilize €300 million. But that’s for the immediate future; we’re in the grip of a long-term tragedy where we’re making extremely active efforts, because it’s clear that what’s ultimately being sought is the negation of Ukraine, the denial of Ukraine. And the negotiation conditions proposed by President Putin haven’t changed for 11 days – in other words, they’re conditions of negotiation/submission, and that seems to us unacceptable. We had the opportunity during the meeting to reaffirm our total solidarity with Ukraine.

What strikes me most – although I’ve already had the chance to say this several times in other places – is first of all that the European Union has been united, while President Putin was counting on our being divided. It’s been united, it’s been swift in its decisions and it’s been strong in its decisions, even audacious. Europe as it is today is no longer the same as the Europe that existed only 10 days ago. Such has been the qualitative journey, the fact of supporting Ukraine, including in terms of military equipment, the fact that huge sanctions have been decided and are being implemented, that this is happening extremely fast. The very fact that we can agree on temporary protection for refugees in the space of a few hours, on issues where generally very lengthy and complicated compromises are needed, where everyone must make efforts – and now it’s being implemented rapidly. All this means that the violence of Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been a very strong spur to the European Union, which therefore makes it no longer the same, today, as 10 days ago.

And I’m convinced this will be strengthened and confirmed at the summit to be held in France on Thursday and Friday, on President Macron’s initiative. (…)

Q. – In your opinion, what role can China play in the current situation? We know about its relations with Russia; it’s suggesting it could play the intermediary; what do you think about that? (…)

THE MINISTER – I share that feeling. President Macron is going to talk to President Xi – tomorrow in principle, I think, if the timetable is still maintained – to highlight to the Chinese President that China has responsibilities too. It’s a member of the Security Council, and in this respect it has responsibilities regarding the development of conflict situations in the world, and especially because of a relative closeness that was shown in the agreement between President Putin and President Xi; it was on 4 February 2022. It has responsibilities it can exert, because it can put pressure on Russia. And the very fact that China abstained in the vote at the Security Council is a sign that there isn’t full alignment in their respective positions, which makes it possible to take action. And I think a great country, a great power, a Security Council member, must use its influence to prevent the worst approach being taken.

Post-Cotonou Agreement

Q. – Concerning the Post-Cotonou Agreement, why has it still not been signed? (…) In concrete terms we’re wondering: what use is the Post-Cotonou Agreement today?

THE MINISTER – It’s essential, it was the subject of long discussions which resulted in a mechanism which isn’t only African, as you said yourself. And I hope we’ll be able to get a signature under the French [EU] presidency.

Ukraine/humanitarian corridors

Q. – I want to know what changes we can expect from humanitarian corridors being opened up. This is apparently the subject, it’ll be the focal point of the new talks between Russia and Ukraine being held in the next few hours. President Macron has denounced Russia’s cynical stance. How do you see the situation evolving?

THE MINISTER – I had the opportunity to say yesterday that we’re moving towards a very tough period in the way the military situation is developing, a period of sieges: the siege of Kharkiv, the siege of Mariupol, which are under way but haven’t succeeded because of the strong resistance the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are putting up; the siege of Odessa tomorrow, the siege of Kyiv tomorrow. Yet we’ve got grim prior knowledge of sieges initiated by Russian armed forces, the last one recently being Aleppo.

It’s always the same scenario – this is what I said yesterday, so before what’s happened today: bombardments, a proposal for a health and humanitarian corridor, denunciation of the corridor being violated by the enemy when in fact there’s provocation from the side which itself established the corridor, a bid to hold negotiations and talks to condemn more effectively the enemy, who pulls out of the negotiations because of a provocation to pull out, more bombardments and start again.

Look at Aleppo, it was like that; look at Grozny in Chechnya, it was like that; and sadly we’ve got another situation; we mustn’t fall into traps. There’s a principle: free humanitarian access everywhere. And this free humanitarian access everywhere also exists under international humanitarian law. It’s this principle which must be respected and this principle which is being flouted today. So I don’t share this idea of humanitarian corridors. I even wonder if “bombardments, corridors, negotiations, collapse, start again” is taught in Russia’s military academies. It’s quite dramatic, but unfortunately it’s a chilling thought./.

Published on 08/03/2022

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