Russia deliberately hitting civilian targets in Ukraine - Minister

Foreign policy – Ukraine/Russia/Belarus/Iran – Interview given by Mme Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter (excerpt)

Paris, 11 October 2022



Q. – The day after the shelling of Ukrainian towns and cities by the Russian army – bombardments on a scale not seen for months – Emmanuel Macron said these deliberate strikes signalled, I quote, “a profound change in the nature of the war”. What does that mean? Hasn’t this been Vladimir Putin’s strategy of brutality since the beginning of the war? How is the war different since yesterday?

THE MINISTER – I think we can say Vladimir Putin’s Russia has crossed another line in the attacks carried out since – you’re right – the beginning of this war, a war chosen by Russia, instigated by it, a war of aggression; and so [this is] a further step in a tactic aimed not at fighting battles on the battlefield but at carrying out strikes indiscriminately. And what’s also new since yesterday is deliberately hitting civilian targets throughout Ukrainian territory. That’s a violation of the laws of war, a violation of international law.

Q. – It’s what’s called a war crime. Were there war crimes yesterday?

THE MINISTER – War crimes are being committed by Russia in Ukraine. You have to call a spade a spade. Of course you have to. And we’ve been doing so for a long time. The President has already said – including when he was in Kyiv in June – that atrocities and war crimes are being committed. He’s repeated it, I’ve repeated it myself, and I must remind you that in the laws of war there are a number of things that are prohibited: executing prisoners, displacing people, torturing civilians, deliberately targeting civilians. Well, that’s what is being done. So Russia will have to account for all that.

Q. – Vladimir Putin justified the strikes by talking about reprisals, following what he called the terrorist destruction of the Crimea bridge by the Ukrainians. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the explosion, but an adviser to the Ukrainian President’s office suggested the explosion could be the result of a struggle within Russia between the FSB and the Russian army . Is that credible, does it seem credible to you? Isn’t it more likely the bridge was attacked by the Ukrainians?

THE MINISTER – I won’t engage in speculation, because we don’t know the causes of what happened on the bridge. But you’ve given me a chance to remind you that Crimea is part of Ukraine’s territory, its internationally-recognized territory. Crimea lies within Ukraine’s borders. And so I don’t see the purpose of Russia’s reactions over a territory that doesn’t belong to it.

Q. – Volodymyr Zelensky has called for for a tough response to Russia by France and Germany, following yesterday’s shelling. In the face of the Russian missiles falling on their towns and cities, Ukrainians are asking for anti-missile defences and planes to control their skies. Why aren’t we giving them any?

THE MINISTER – We – namely France, the European countries, its partners, its allies –are giving many things: our support for Ukraine since the outset is proven, it’s diplomatic – I’ll come back to that –, political and humanitarian: we’ve just dispatched 1,000 tonnes of aid. And you have to remember that help for Ukraine is also help for the resilience of the Ukrainian people, who must pull through in the long term. And the help is also military. It’s also sanctions. It’s a full package that we’re going to continue in the long term.

Q. – But now they’re asking for anti-aircraft defence systems.

THE MINISTER – They have some.

Q. – Do we have any in France? Do we have any to give them?

THE MINISTER – Ukraine has anti-aircraft defence systems. Yesterday more than 80 missiles were fired by Russia, from various places incidentally, over the whole of Ukraine’s territory; nearly half of them were stopped, and they were stopped thanks to the weapons being provided by Ukraine’s partners, who include us.

Q. – You say we’re helping Ukraine a lot. That’s not what the defence expert François Heisbourg thinks; he said yesterday that France is lagging behind in terms of the help provided to the Ukrainians. Only 1.4% of the military materiel delivered to Ukraine comes from France. We’re in ninth position, behind Germany, which we nevertheless criticized strongly for its slowness, and even behind Italy, which is giving more weapons than us. François Heisbourg tells L’Express: France’s record is humiliating. The gap between what we’re doing and what we’re saying is becoming intolerable. What’s your response?

THE MINISTER – I think he’s wrong. And he is wrong. First of all, France is doing what it says, unlike a number of partners who make a lot of announcements and are slow in delivering what they say they want to deliver. That’s not the case with us. Moreover, a number of decisions have been made, and as you know they’re reasonable, namely not to explain what we’re doing in real time, because this is information we reserve for the Ukrainians and not for the opposing camp. And it’s also wrong in substance: we’re helping a lot, with Caesar self-propelled howitzers, which I think are now famous for their effectiveness. We’ve also delivered provisions of other kinds: missiles, ammunition, armoured personnel carriers.

Q. – So when he says we’re delivering less than Germany and Italy, is that wrong?

THE MINISTER – It’s wrong. And what we’re delivering makes the difference on the ground. The Ukrainians know it because they thank us for it and often ask us for other things. President Macron repeated yesterday to President Zelenskyy that we’re going to continue and step up our aid, including our military aid.

Q. – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Kyiv of preparing an attack on his country, adding that Minsk and Moscow are consequently going to deploy troops. Is Belarus preparing to enter this war, effectively?

THE MINISTER – It would be well advised not to do so. It hasn’t done so as yet. And I can tell you that in the talks among G7 leaders, who will be meeting this afternoon, the issue of Belarus will most certainly be on the agenda, because a warning must be issued to that country: any additional support for the war Russia is waging in Ukraine would bring about extra sanctions. Let me remind you that Belarus is already subject to sanctions.

Q. – In other words, you’re threatening it with more sanctions, here, this morning?

THE MINISTER – We’re warning it, we’re not threatening it. There’s only one country that is threatening its neighbours for the moment, namely Russia, which has attacked Ukraine.

Q. – In this context, can we still talk to Vladimir Putin? Emmanuel Macron surprised, not to say shocked people in June by explaining that we mustn’t humiliate Russia, in order to leave an honourable way out for Vladimir Putin. Has France’s doctrine changed since June?

THE MINISTER – It hasn’t changed. I’d say two things to you: first of all, it’s important to have a channel of communication with the Russian President. By contrast, isolation would be the worst of policies. Only recently it [communication] helped the International Atomic Energy Agency secure a visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Bear in mind that a nuclear plant that is in a combat zone isn’t a situation that should go unresolved.

Q. – So should we go on talking to Vladimir Putin?

THE MINISTER – We must. It brings results – not to the extent we’d like, obviously, but the reverse would be irresponsible. And also, as the Prime Minister said in the debate on Ukraine in the National Assembly, there will be a post-war period. The war will end one day, even though it may be lengthy, and Russia will still be our neighbour.

Q. – Putin’s Russia?

THE MINISTER – Russia will be our neighbour. I’m talking about geography, and also history extends further than that.

Q. – Joe Biden warned last Thursday against a risk of a nuclear apocalypse, saying Vladimir Putin isn’t joking when he talks about the potential use of a nuclear weapon. Do you echo the American President’s words? Is there a risk of a nuclear apocalypse?

THE MINISTER – I think that on these serious issues it’s important to speak with restraint, and I’d even say with special caution. So what we say to Russia – and we’ve already done it, I can repeat it – is that we expect from it the responsible behaviour that a power with a [nuclear] capability must show. And I’ll simply remind you that nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means any aggressor would actually expose itself to consequences.


Q. – Ukraine is obviously dominating the international news, but there are burning issues in other countries, and we don’t hear much from France. I’ll begin with Iran. The demonstrations against the authorities are entering their fourth week since the death of Mahsa Amini. The crackdown is continuing, still just as violent. On Monday the United Kingdom announced sanctions against the Iranian morality police and the regime’s political and security leaders. The same goes for Canada and the United States, which have stepped up sanctions. What about France?

THE MINISTER – And the European Union, which is working on it, which yesterday, at the level of technical teams, agreed on a raft of sanctions targeting those responsible for the crackdown. I announced it in the National Assembly less than a week ago. It will be validated at ministerial level on Monday, and at the European Council in the middle of next week.

Q. – So will there be more sanctions?

THE MINISTER – There will be more sanctions against Iran, targeting those responsible for the crackdown. We’ve also condemned – and I condemn once again – the police violence, the crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, which is continuing in Iran with no justification. We’ve also reiterated, as we must, the right of Iranian women and men to demonstrate peacefully. This afternoon I’ll be speaking – at any rate, I hope so – to the Iranian Foreign Minister to ask once again for the immediate release of all our compatriots who are being held in Iran: there are currently five. We must protect our community. It’s in our hearts and in our actions. (…)./.

Published on 12/10/2022

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