On Friday, France’s foreign minister said that Russia was attempting to circumvent the European Union by initiating direct discussions with the United States over Ukraine.
Following weeks of tensions over Russian force deployments along its border with neighboring Ukraine, talks between US and Russian officials will begin in Geneva on Monday, with envoys on both sides attempting to avoid a catastrophe.
“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin wants to circumvent the European Union… he wants to undermine the EU’s consolidating cohesion,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said on BFM TV and RMC Radio.
“It’s impossible to imagine EU security without Europeans.” France has just assumed the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
French President Emmanuel Macron later told a news conference that he was planning to have discussions with Putin soon, to discuss topics including Ukraine – but he gave no details and did not say when that could take place.
Russia has moved nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine. It says it is not preparing for an invasion but wants to see the West back off from its support for Ukraine’s government and has demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards.
“Putin has proposed to discuss with NATO to sort of return to the zones of influence from the past…which would mean Russia restore the spirit of Yalta,” Le Drian said referring to the conference between World War Two Allied powers in February 1945 that gave the Soviet Union control over its eastern European neighbors.
“This is not our point of view, but we have to accept the discussion.”
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West. Kyiv wants the territory back.
Le Drian said any further military incursion into Ukraine by Russia would bring “serious strategic consequences”, with one option being a review of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
He said that despite Putin’s assurances that he was beginning to withdraw troops from the region, Paris had yet to see that happen.
Senior French and German diplomats met with Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday as part of efforts to revive peace talks over eastern Ukraine.