Repression in Belarus "intolerable" - Foreign Minister
Foreign policy – COVID-19/Situation of Mr Navalny/Belarus – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to RTL (excerpts)
Paris, 27 August 2020
Q. – First of all, on the management of the coronavirus crisis, yesterday Belgium put Paris in the red zone on its list of European destinations that are no longer authorized unless people undergo screening for coronavirus and a period of isolation. A few days ago it was Germany that identified the regions of Ile-de-France, Paris and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur as risk areas. Are we bottom of the class in Europe?
THE MINISTER – We ourselves identified both the Paris region and the southern region around Marseille – and the whole of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – as risk areas, because the spread of the virus is accelerating in those regions. And on that basis, other countries believe that if you’re coming from those regions there are precautions to take in this or that country, be it Germany or Belgium, since you mention them. Going to Germany isn’t banned. In my own case, I’m going to visit Berlin shortly; I’m in Paris, in a risk area; I’m going to Berlin, but after having a test beforehand to ensure that I’m not – that I can’t pass on the virus. (…)
Q. – But is there no reciprocity?
THE MINISTER – Well, if the situation is the same in Germany, Belgium or elsewhere, we’ll take the same measures. We have to consult.
Q. – But it’s not?
THE MINISTER – For the moment, that’s not the case. So much the better. And the advice we can give is to regularly consult the advice for travellers, where it’s all shown regularly, because we provide very, very… almost daily updates on the situations in Europe, where there’s still freedom of movement. But with those reservations… (…)
Q. – When I say to you “are we bottom of the class?”, well yes, compared to the Germans and the Belgians, we are bottom of the class.
THE MINISTER – Yes, tomorrow there may, unfortunately, be other sectors, other regions, that will experience a more active spread of the virus and for which we’ll have to take precautions. It’s not a closure. The borders are closed, Europe’s borders are closed to the outside, except for 10 countries where the virus is gradually disappearing. But for the rest it’s closed, except for French people, who can return to the country, provided they take precautions when they’re coming from at-risk countries – I’m thinking of the United States, for example, or elsewhere, where you have to take tests before returning to the country.
Q. – Since we’re on this, may I ask whether all the French nationals or tourists who want to return to France have been able to?
THE MINISTER – A lot have. We must now be respectful of the constraints imposed. And if you’re in an at-risk country, you have to do the tests in order to return. (…)
Q. – The Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is still in hospital in Germany in an induced coma; Germany says he was indeed poisoned. You’ve talked about a criminal act…
THE MINISTER – Yes, I stand by that.
Q. – Who are you aiming at? Russia?
THE MINISTER – No, I’m aiming at those who committed the act.
Q. – In other words?
THE MINISTER – In other words, Russia should take the initiative to hold a transparent investigation to identify…
Q. – Have you seen what the Russians are saying? They’re saying, “you can’t conclude it was poisoning because poison wasn’t found.” Aren’t they rather taking us for fools?
THE MINISTER – No, but I think it’s Russia which has to show all this. It would do well to conduct a transparent investigation and, when the culprits have been found, to try them so that lessons are learnt, because this isn’t the first time there’s been a poisoning: it’s happened several times before.
So the European Union foreign ministers are going to meet in Berlin later on, as I was telling you, and we’re going to take account of this need.
But I don’t understand why Russia isn’t playing by the rules of transparency; it’s in its interest and we’re saying so.
Q. – You can’t force them, the Russians?
THE MINISTER – We’ve already imposed a number of sanctions, but I think that if they wanted to take the initiative of being transparent, it would count in their favour.
Q. – (...) In Belarus, there’s a protest movement against Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship which has entered its third week, its third week of demonstrations. Do we or don’t we support this movement?
THE MINISTER – First of all we were surprised by the spectacular result of the latest election, initiated by Mr Lukashenko and in favour of Mr Lukashenko. We didn’t recognize that result. And what’s happening in Belarus is that the Belarusian people don’t either, they feel they’ve been robbed of the election...
Q. – ...Yes, but Vladimir Putin doesn’t want us to get too close to Belarus...
THE MINISTER – ...and they’re protesting. It’s a Belarusian matter, but we ourselves stand in solidarity with Ms Tikhanovskaya and her movement because we believe that the movement is defending the democratic and humanist values we support and share. And we support the movement; we would like mediation to be conducted within Belarus to find some kind of calm to prevent things from flaring up.
The European Council held a meeting on the subject in the middle of August and decided on sanctions both for those carrying out repression – because this repression is intolerable – and for those who cheated in preparing the election. That’s already a bold step. There may be others. But we’d like mediation to be implemented to bring about a peaceful solution. This is also what Ms Tikhanovskaya is asking for in her statements, including in the statement in the French press yesterday./.