Minsk accords the only basis for lasting solution in Ukraine - Minister

Foreign policy – Russia/Ukraine – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM TV

Paris, 7 January 2022

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Q. – We’re going to talk about Ukraine of course, but before talking about Ukraine – Ukraine and Russia, everything is linked – I’d like to talk to you about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Why? Because it’s linked. It provides Europe with leverage against Russia. It’s not me who’s saying that, it’s the US State Department that’s saying it. Does the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline provide leverage for Europe against Russia? If Russia invades Ukraine, will we have to close Nord Stream 2?

THE MINISTER – The Germans – because it’s a German issue, it’s first of all a German issue…

Q. – Yes, it’s a German issue, but it’s also a European issue, because that Russian gas also comes to us.

THE MINISTER – With regard to that position, France has always shown great reservations about Nord Stream 2. But I understand that if by any chance there’s an attack in Ukraine, the issue will be put on the table.

Q. – It’ll be put on the table if there’s a Russian attack on Ukraine?

THE MINISTER – Everything is now focused on preventing a Russian attack on Ukraine. But we’ve told the Russians very strongly from the outset that if there’s a further attack against Ukraine, the strategic consequences on Russia will be serious; in my opinion they’d also be unanimous across Europe. This warning has been issued several times, including by France. Despite that, we must talk to the Russians. But we must also tell the Russians that if by any chance there’s an additional attack on Ukraine’s integrity, the consequences for Russia will be very severe.

Q. – So Nord Stream 2 is leverage for Europe…

THE MINISTER – It’s leverage, but there isn’t only that.

Q. – Let’s talk about Ukraine itself. Do you believe in the possibility of Russian troops invading Ukraine?

THE MINISTER – There’s been quite a considerable reinforcement of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border and on the border of the Donbas region, and this accelerated in the final months of 2021. We were very worried about this build-up. And then, at a particular point, I think it was on 21 December, President Putin said: but those were all manoeuvres, we have the right to train, and we’re going to start withdrawing some of the forces. We haven’t seen that. But…

Q. – They’re still there!

THE MINISTER – But alongside that, President Putin said: I propose that we talk. That was something new. I propose that we talk, but about what? I propose that we talk about an agreement between Russia and the United States regarding arms control, and I propose that we talk to NATO to ensure, in some way, that we return to the previous spheres of influence, i.e. blocs’ spheres of influence, and ultimately ensure that Russia returns to the spirit of Yalta. That’s not…

Q. – And of the USSR.

THE MINISTER – That’s not our standpoint…

Q. – And of the USSR.

THE MINISTER – But once President Putin says “I want to talk”, we have to agree to talk. Even if initially, in our minds, the discussion doesn’t necessarily focus on the norms President Putin proposes, discussion still enables us to talk about other things too, because in the past there was, admittedly, that confrontation between blocs before the disappearance of the USSR, but there were also agreements signed by the USSR itself, called the Helsinki Accords or the Paris Charter – signed by the USSR and picked up by Russia – which said that each country in Europe, in order to protect stability and security in Europe, has the right to autonomy, sovereignty, the inviolability of its borders, transparency – in short, to choose its alliances and partnerships: all this is in the Paris Charter and in the Helsinki Accords signed by Russia. So let’s talk! Let’s put everything on the table, let’s take part in those meetings, and let’s try and ensure that the thread of dialogue can be maintained, because we have to talk to Russia, Russia is our neighbour and we must, at the same time, be uncompromising on the fundamentals.

Q. – That’s what I understood, except that Vladimir Putin wants a new security architecture in Europe; it’s what he wants. Yet he isn’t having discussions with Europe, but Washington. What’s more, on 9-10 January, there are discussions in Geneva between the Americans and Russians. Isn’t Putin going over the European Union’s head?

THE MINISTER – It’s what he’d like, because he has very little…

Q. – It’s what he’s doing!

THE MINISTER – Hang on, it’s what he’d like because he has little respect for the European Union and is absolutely determined to try and drive a wedge in the unity of Europeans, which has been maintained and I believe is more robust. We can’t envisage security and stability in Europe without the Europeans. We’ve said this and are going to say so later, because a meeting is being held this afternoon between NATO member States ahead of the discussion with the Russians and the Russia-NATO meeting. For the most part, Europeans are NATO members and we’re saying this to NATO, that the Europeans’ security can’t be achieved without them. We’re saying it to the Americans too. And we have close enough relations with the Americans to inform each other of the situation.

Moreover, since you mention dates, next week there are several events in addition to the discussion in Geneva between the United States and Russia; there will also be a NATO meeting with Russia, as I said earlier, and a meeting of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, i.e. the outcome of – the institution which was created after the Helsinki Accords, where the Europeans are going to say what they think about their own security. At the same time as this, since you’re talking about the European Union, next week the EU foreign and defence ministers are meeting in Brest to talk about all these issues in the presence of NATO’s Secretary General and the High Representative of the European Union, Mr Borrell, as well. So the Europeans are in the driving seat. They won’t allow themselves to fall behind or become marginalized through choices (…) between Mr Putin and the United States. Mr Putin doesn’t dictate the way Europeans operate. (…)./.

Russia-Ukraine – Statement issued by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

Paris, 5 January 2022

I have spoken with my counterparts in Germany, Ms Annalena Baerbock, Italy, Mr Luigi Di Maio, and Poland, Mr Zgibniew Rau, the latter Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE since 1 January, as well as with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Josep Borrell, to discuss the current tensions with Russia and the Ukraine issue. These discussions followed those on 29 December with the American, German and British foreign ministers.

I highlighted the importance of close coordination between Europeans ahead of the discussions in various formats planned for the coming week, as well as in the perspective of the informal meeting of foreign ministers of the European Union that I will host in Brest on 13 and 14 January under the French presidency of the Council of the European Union. In this respect, I stressed the responsibility of the Europeans to contribute and participate actively, through tangible proposals, to preparing and conducting these talks with Russia in which their own security interests are at stake. Demanding dialogue with Russia, based on parameters that we deem to be in line with our collective security interests, is useful and necessary to enhance strategic stability in Europe.

I reminded my colleagues, as the heads of State and government of the European Union did at the European Council meeting in December 2021, that any further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and come at a high cost in response, including restrictive measures in coordination with partners. We will thus continue close coordination between Europeans and in the transatlantic relationship.

Lastly, I discussed France’s continued efforts within the Normandy format to achieve de-escalation of tensions in and around Ukraine and to move forward towards the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which remain the only agreed basis for a lasting solution to the Ukraine crisis. Our efforts alongside Germany to achieve that remain total and will continue in the coming days and weeks./.

Published on 10/01/2022

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