Minister interviewed on Ukraine, Africa and Taiwan

Foreign policy – Interview given by Mme Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Libération (excerpts)

Paris, 4 August 2022



Q. – The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan this week. China is furious. What is France’s position?

THE MINISTER – France’s position towards China hasn’t changed since it recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1964, and so France stands by its One-China policy. A visit by a male or female speaker of the US House of Representatives isn’t unprecedented. In any case, Ms Pelosi’s visit mustn’t be used by China as a pretext for escalation measures that would increase tension.

Q. – Before 24 February, the idea of a Russian invasion of Ukraine seemed unlikely to many people. It’s happened. Could China be tempted to imitate the Kremlin and invade Taiwan?

THE MINISTER – It would be very misguided for it to do so, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the current temptation. We’re sending every message of calm and moderation, and I had the opportunity to speak at length to my Chinese colleague, the Foreign Minister, when we were in Indonesia for the G20 summit. The issue was discussed with many others and I called – as all our partners are doing, incidentally – for the utmost restraint and [stressed] the importance of dialogue between China and Taiwan. The status quo can’t be undermined by unilateral measures. We’re counting on China to maintain a foreign policy that seeks to abide by the rules and is committed to stability, which is one of the hallmarks of its foreign policy.


Q. – Emmanuel Macron spoke on Monday to his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In mid-June, the French President finally visited Kyiv. However, proportionally, in terms of aid, particularly military aid, France is lagging behind a bit compared to others like the United States but also the UK, Germany, Poland and even Estonia.

THE MINISTER – That’s not accurate. We don’t publicize everything we’re doing and providing militarily, in terms of materiel or training. That’s a deliberate choice. It’s not necessary to give everyone that information: we reserve it for the Ukrainians and our partners. France, along with all the Europeans and its allies, took the resolute decision to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty, its independence and its integrity, because it’s fighting for values we share, because it’s been attacked by a country, Russia, that has chosen an especially horrible war, waged without respect for international humanitarian law and characterized by war crimes, atrocities. We chose to support Ukraine because what’s at stake is not only the fate of the Ukrainian people or stability on the European continent. It’s the brutal, unjustified and also cynical undermining of all the basic principles underpinning the international order based on respect for the rule of law. It’s neither acceptable nor conceivable for a State to back away from its international commitments and from respecting the most elementary principles of the United Nations Charter, because if we accepted that, it would mean widespread disorder in the world. What we’re upholding by defending and helping Ukraine is our own security.

To get back to the support we’re providing that isn’t just military and diplomatic but also political, economic and financial, France is playing its full role. We’re already devoting €2 billion to economic, humanitarian and reconstruction aid. This aid adds to the European Union’s efforts to the tune of €9 billion. All this complements European efforts at military level. And we’ve just added, by a decision of the European Foreign Affairs Council, i.e. at ministerial level, a new €500-million tranche. The aid provided is also humanitarian, with millions of refugees being hosted on European countries’ territory who benefit from what’s called the right to temporary protection: a number of rights, first and foremost the right to work and, for children, to receive an education. There are around 19,000 Ukrainian children going to school in France.

Q. – What’s the situation with the war crimes investigations?

THE MINISTER – Our support also involves the fight against impunity, with specialist teams being sent to document what we can regard as war crimes. We must call a spade a spade. It also involves the very recent donation of a DNA laboratory that will help identify victims, and our cooperation with the International Criminal Court, including in terms of finance. There are also the sanctions. Contrary to what those supporting Russia would have us believe – like Mme Le Pen, who seems to maintain a special affection for Vladimir Putin’s regime and claims the sanctions are ineffective – they are having an impact. They’re strongly affecting the Russian economy and will have a growing impact, because reducing our dependence on Russian hydrocarbons and possibly on gas will make it very difficult for Russia to continue its war effort.

We reserve the possibility of stepping up this sanctions policy. Lastly, help to Ukraine in terms of military equipment isn’t only about artillery guns but also the supply of protective equipment, ammunition and armoured vehicles enabling infantry to advance as close as possible to the Russian lines while being protected. We’re doing this in the framework of dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities, responding to their requests, in coordination with our partners and allies, in such a way that collectively we’re as effective as possible.

Q. – Following slightly tense discussions, particularly about the remarks by President Macron, who spoke of not “humiliating” Russia – words that were very poorly received in Ukraine – can we talk about a warming of relations, or clearing up a misunderstanding?

THE MINISTER – The President’s visit to Kyiv, in the company of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, was a key moment. It provided an opportunity, just ahead of the European Commission’s opinion on the membership bids presented by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, to express the support of the three founding members of the European Union and a large geographical neighbour for the recognition and therefore the legitimacy of Ukraine and Moldova’s applications for candidate status.

The visit was of historic importance because it was followed by a unanimous recognition of that status by the 27. French efforts to deliver equipment were also continued and stepped up, which satisfied the Ukrainians. In the latest conversation between President Macron and the Ukrainian President, the latter welcomed the help we’re providing. Will we have to continue? Probably, because it’s a long-term fight. The President often emphasizes that we’ll have to continue our support in every aspect, including militarily. We’ll not only have to help the Ukrainians to stand firm and, if possible, shift the military balance of power with Russia, but we ourselves will also have to stand firm and be aware that in the long term we’ll have to make an effort and that we’ll make it because our security is at stake.

Q. – So there’s been a shift. What’s changed?

THE MINISTER – France’s line has always been clear. It’s about preventing Russia from achieving its goals. It’s conducting a hybrid war which doesn’t target only Ukraine, it seeks to undermine stability in the world and the international order – a confrontation that extends as far as the African continent and in which Russia is weaponizing not only what it’s doing in Ukraine militarily but also disinformation, hunger and energy, for strategic aims that go well beyond Ukraine. We must make it clear to all those in the world who might be tempted to regard this as a war which only concerns Europeans that they’re also targeted by Russian imperialism. I’m repeating a word used by President Macron, who is right in what he says. We’re looking at a kind of attempt to restore imperial power through the most appalling means: atrocities, rapes, war crimes, probably crimes against humanity, deportations, torture, massacres. We must help our partners outside European territory become more conscious that they themselves are targeted and that you mustn’t confuse the victim and the executioner. On this point, the President couldn’t have been clearer during his recent tour of Africa.

Q. – Does President Macron still think we must continue talking to Vladimir Putin?

THE MINISTER – Must we continue talking to Russia and its president? Yes. Not only France, but yes, resolutely, because we’ll have to prepare for what follows. Today we’re witnessing the clash of weapons. But we must continue calling for dialogue. There are conditions for that. It takes two to talk. So for the time being, the conditions don’t exist for there to be a political phase following this military phase – far from it. However, not only must we hope for a rebalancing of power with, on the one hand, the effect of sanctions, and on the other, perhaps, a realization by Vladimir Putin or others around him that Russia has made a strategic error and gone down a blind alley, we’re [also] seeing that his partners understand his decisions less and less.

Q. – Which partners?

THE MINISTER – Its closest ones geographically, but also Russia’s trading partners. Russia’s policy is affecting the whole world: rising energy prices, rising food prices – Russia alone is responsible, by drastically reducing these exports and forcing Ukraine to reduce its own. It’s Russia which imposed a blockade on grain and is boasting today about seeking solutions, adopting the attitude of arsonist and firefighter. This is firstly affecting Africa and the Middle East. China’s attitude remains extremely cautious about what Russia is asking. Many countries can’t make up their mind but very few are supporting Russia.


Q. – Let’s come back to Africa, where France is being jostled by Russia in particular, through disinformation, the Wagner militia and others. President Macron had some rather strong words to say about this during his recent visit to Cameroon. But going beyond words, how can we counterattack?

THE MINISTER – The strategy is the one President Macron has developed since his major speech in Ouagadougou in 2017. Knowing everything which links us to Africa. On that basis, the policy now being followed consists in forging ties and developing relations in addition to State-to-State or government-to-government relations. By mobilizing whole peoples more; by having faith, in particular, in the future, young people, culture, the new insistence we’re putting on concrete projects which African citizens understand better because they’re more visible; by mobilizing the diaspora; by creating new partnerships in all sectors; by promoting investment in the digital sector, the cultural and creative industries and sport. And also work on remembering the past and on history. This approach isn’t new, it’s been President Macron’s vision since the start of his first mandate. The new element, which didn’t exist in 2017, is Russia’s penetration, entryism into the African continent. This entryism and, generally, Russia’s aggressiveness in many African countries, going beyond Mali, requires us to add a new dimension to the policy of a new partnership and updated relationship between Africa and France. This is what the President spoke about during his recent visit. Given this manipulation of information, these lies which can have an impact on public opinion and are secretly financed, as we know, by Russia, we need to be more present, more active, including with a way of organizing things at ministerial and interministerial level based on a strategy which I’ll be talking to the Prime Minister about and which I’d like to be able to put in place swiftly.

West Africa

Q. – West Africa has suffered a series of coups recently – in Burkina Faso, in Mali twice, in Guinea-Bissau and Chad. Anti-French feeling is growing there. Are you worried?

THE MINISTER – Each of the situations you describe is different. But it’s important to emphasize that we’ve got to restructure our force which was present in Mali, rely on others and in a different way, as we did in Niger under the command of the Nigerien armed forces. (…) President Macron’s recent round of visits showed that we aren’t withdrawing from the African continent, we’re investing over the long term, in line with our African partners’ expectations, and we’re striving to respond more effectively than before. The President went to Guinea-Bissau because President Sissoco is the Chair of ECOWAS and he aims to give it back its role as a regional organization, united and useful, which allows the region’s States to cooperate and settle problems together. President Sissoco talked about a meeting at the ECOWAS summit, maybe this autumn, and the French President publicly signalled his willingness to participate in it.


Q. – Have relations with Mali been permanently damaged?

THE MINISTER – Political relations have been difficult following a double coup d’état! The second resulted in the junta withdrawing into itself. It has become totally dependent on Russian mercenaries for its survival and security. The Wagner mercenaries aren’t motivated by good intentions, as we can see with the atrocities they’re committing and their ineffective fight against armed terrorist groups. The distance which has emerged between Mali and France is regrettable, and isn’t because of us. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that in the framework of the operations under way to restructure Barkhane, the strictly military aspect of the disengagement, in cooperation with the Malians step by step, was acceptable, and I hope it will remain so until the end of this phase, which should be completed before the end of the summer. On the other hand, politically, the President spelled it out: our disagreements are accepted and our warning about the military junta’s dependence on Russia and Russian mercenaries obviously remains something which must be emphasized. (…)./.

Published on 10/08/2022

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