Putin after meeting Macron: Do you want to go to War with Russia?Russia | February 8, 2022, Tuesday // 09:42| views
“If Ukraine joins NATO and tries to retake Crimea by military means, European countries will automatically be in military conflict with Russia.”
This was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin after six hours of talks with French leader Emmanuel Macron.
The guest was the first speaker of European interests amid tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz negotiated in parallel with US President Joe Biden at the White House.
Asked by reporters, Putin reiterated that „we (Russia) are strongly opposed to Ukraine's accession to NATO because NATO's infrastructure is moving towards us, not the other way around.”
In an aggressive tone, he even effectively threatened the West with nuclear weapons in the event of such a conflict.
“Neither I nor Macron want that.”
Putin also returned to his second argument last week in support of Moscow's two main demands to Washington and NATO as conditions for de-escalation after weeks of tensions over the gathering of between 100,000 and 130,000 troops near Ukraine. In the list of Moscow's proposals, the West rejected these two: to close the door to Ukraine's future membership in the Alliance and NATO to return its military positions within the borders by 1997 (in other words, from the time before the membership of Bulgaria and Romania). Last week, it became known that the West had made other proposals in exchange for the rejected two.
According to Putin, the fact that Western countries perceive Crimea as part of Ukraine could create problems if Ukraine becomes part of NATO, and Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty presupposes collective intervention in support of Kyiv in order to regain the territory occupied by Russia.
“Will we then be at war with NATO? This will happen if things go this way. Do you want to go to war with Russia? France wants to go to war with Russia?” asked Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
“We are talking not only about NATO enlargement but also about the non-deployment of offensive weapons near the border with Russia. If everyone wants peace, if NATO is peaceful, what is the problem with returning to the 1997 state?” Putin continued, repeating the second major Russian request, rejected by the West. Instead, the Alliance is adhering to an open-door policy, and we have discussed this in the last six questions, the Russian president explained.
“If Ukraine joins NATO and tries to take Crimea by military force, all European countries will become parties in the war with Russia ... We understand that NATO's conventional power is greater than Russia's, but Russia is the leading nuclear power and there will be no winners ... Neither Macron nor I want that,” said Putin
In addition, Ukraine is gathering strength in Donbas and has tried to resolve the issue militarily, by invading there, and there is “no one to guarantee that this will not happen again,” Putin continued.
Along with Kyiv's insistence on adhering to the 2015 Minsk agreements (under which France and Germany are guarantors), Putin makes these accusations despite claims that Moscow is not part of the conflict because it is internal - an argument by which Russian leadership rejects the idea of negotiations with Ukraine on the Donbas. From Kyiv's point of view, Moscow is part of the conflict over support for separatists in the “people's republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Despite these words, Putin called some of the points discussed with Macron a basis for progress, and the French head of state described them as “elements of convergence.” “Many of his ideas (Macron’s), his proposals, which are probably too early to talk about, I think it is possible to become the basis for our next common steps,” said the Russian leader.
The next few days are crucial
In a tone that at times sounded conciliatory and compromising against the background of the sharp messages of the Russian president, Macron reiterated to Putin that it is necessary to take into account the concerns of the other side and think about “innovative solutions.” Putin is expected to “avoid war” - a call made in the introductory comments of the French leader at the beginning of the meeting. At the same time, Macron conveyed to Putin his view that NATO should not close to new members like Ukraine.
The coming days and weeks will be crucial to the West's overall response, Macron said, and Putin added that some of his proposals could be “a basis for continuation”.
“Putin's 'strong' positions are not always European, Macron said. It is necessary to consider the ‘trauma’ of the last three decades and to rethink the events of the 1990s with concern for the ‘security’ of other countries.”
“There is a strong desire” for Putin to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity and “the next few days will be decisive”, including while discussing “Mr. Putin's proposals” for de-escalation in Eastern Europe.
“We cannot ignore the risk and instability in Europe ... it is much easier to start a conflict than to resolve it,” said Emmanuel Macron, President of France
Macron will leave for Kyiv today, where he will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. Both he and Putin made it clear that, from their point of view, discussions between Moscow and the West should continue once the results of this meeting are seen. It follows from Macron's words that he and Putin will talk after the visit to Kyiv.
“The next few days will be crucial and will require intense discussions that we will have together,” Macron told reporters before the press conference.
Russia, “Wagner” and Mali
Putin was asked whether Russia planned to invade Mali after the United States and the United Nations confirmed that Russia's private military company, Wagner, was already present in the country and whether this had been discussed with Macron.
“The president knows our approach to this issue, the Russian state has no relations with other companies operating in Mali, and the country's leadership has no problems working with this company,” Putin said. “If Mali wants, it can do it. The Russian state has nothing in common. Our companies have their own economic interests. We will study the issue, but we are not connected now.”
Private military companies do not exist under Russian law. If in Syria and Libya Moscow more often called them citizens who do not represent the interests of the Russian state, in relation to Mali they are more often defined as companies that have the full right to do business abroad, but this has nothing to do with official Moscow.
The issue of stability in West Africa, former colonies and France's sphere of influence, is worrying for Paris, which has warned that thousands of French troops will not take part in counter-terrorism operations alongside Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner PMC. However, during the press conference, Macron refrained from the sharp tone with which the Elysee Palace commented on the presence of mercenaries associated with Putin's close friend in a region important to France, but increasingly overwhelmed by anti-French sentiment.
“There will be no Nord Stream-2 if Russia invades”
The conversation between Macron and Putin took place while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in the White House to meet with his American counterpart, Joe Biden. He then returned for talks with Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda in Berlin, where the French leader will arrive after a visit to Ukraine.
The US head of state warned at a press conference that if Russia invades Ukraine – “which means tanks or soldiers cross the border again” - there will be no Nord Stream-2.
It was also important for Scholz to show a united (along with Biden) front against potential Russian military aggression in Ukraine after criticism that he had not given a decisive enough answer to concerns that Russia might attack and Germany was not ready to firmly oppose this. Prior to the meeting with Biden, the chancellor took the opportunity to say that “a very high price will be paid if Ukraine is attacked militarily.”
Prior to the visit to Washington, there were comments that Berlin was not firm in its intention to abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. On both the American and German sides, the chancellor has been criticized for not showing clear enough leadership in the crisis. Biden worked to dispel this doubt by saying that “we are working in unison to continue to deter Russian aggression in Europe and address the challenges posed by China, and to promote stability ... in the Western Balkans.”
“We will be united. We will act together. And we will take all the necessary steps,” Scholz said in English.
Reuters notes that Scholz's rating has melted by 17 points in a few weeks amid tensions with Ukraine. The German leader will have visits to both Kyiv and Moscow.
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