The following is an interview with Renaud Girard, chief foreign correspondent at the major French daily Le Figaro.
Note: The interview was conducted in French and translated by Asia Times contributor Adriel Kasonta.
Adriel Kasonta: What do you make of the recent meeting between President Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin in Moscow that took place at the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Special Relations between Russia and France?
Renaud Girard: How to judge Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to Moscow? The French president wanted to initiate a path to de-escalation between the Russians and the NATO countries on the Ukrainian question. He has undeniably succeeded in this task.
By receiving Emmanuel Macron face to face for more than five hours in the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed how much consideration he had for the French president’s peace approach. “On our side,” said the Russian president at the end of the meeting, “we will do everything to find compromises that can satisfy everyone.”
Some of the French proposals can “lay the foundations for common progress,” added Putin, without wanting to make them public at this stage. It is not the language of a man who is about to invade his neighbor.
But what was Macron’s strategy to achieve this beginning of de-escalation? Faced with absolute hysteria from American and British hawks, Macron had the reflex to think differently, to think “out of the box,” as you say in English.
Instead of lecturing the mean Russian bear, brandishing all sorts of sanctions, he grasped the crisis from the angle of collective security in Europe. It allowed him to short-circuit warmongers.
“Without security for Russia, there can be no security in Europe,” said the French president. This is precisely what the Russians wanted to hear, as they refuse with all their might the prospect of American missiles positioned on Ukrainian territory and aimed at Moscow.
AK: Macron’s Tuesday trip to Kiev marked the first visit by a French president to Ukraine since 1998 when Jacques Chirac traveled to the country. What were his chances of convincing the current authorities in that Eastern European country to honor their commitments under the Minsk Package of Measures and the Normandy format agreements, including those reached at the summits in Paris and Berlin?
RG: Does Ukraine have the right to do what it wants on its territory? In theory, yes, of course, she has the right to do whatever she wants at home. It is international law. But the reality is that Russia wants to be sure of its immediate neighborhood. Macron was able to put himself in the shoes of the Russians and understand what was bothering them.
Ukraine has been the protective glacis of the Russians since the 17th century. And now the country wants to live entirely as it wants, regardless of how Russians feel and without applying the Minsk Agreements of February 2015, which provided for a change in the Ukrainian constitution to give cultural autonomy to Donbas. That, the Russians do not accept.
AK: You’re a veteran journalist who has been covering foreign affairs for Le Figaro since 1984. As a person with unique experience and insights, would you be so kind as to share with our readers your thoughts on what should be the way forward to ease tensions between NATO/EU and Russia?
RG: In international relations, to judge a situation, it is always helpful to know how to put yourself in the shoes of the rival or the adversary. And this is precisely what Macron did.
The French president is not naive in the face of his Russian counterpart, who is anything but soft. But he knows very well what the American reaction would be if Mexico were to express its interest in entering a military alliance with Russia and if this alliance wanted to install missiles on Mexican territory aimed directly at American infrastructures. The Americans would not accept it.