President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, Emmanuel,

It is a pleasure to see you.

Last time we met was two years ago and, of course, there is a backlog of issues that we can and should discuss in a direct format.

Still, over these years, our contacts have never been interrupted, and we remain in touch at all times. Moreover, despite the pandemic, bilateral trade is up. During the pandemic, it fell by 15 percent, but over 11 months of 2021 it grew by over 70 percent to reach pre-pandemic levels and, I think, even slightly exceeded them.

Our colleagues are working quite successfully in the political sphere, including the foreign ministries and a 2+2 meeting between our respective defence ministers and foreign ministers.

Relations in the humanitarian sphere are on the rise as well. We have held events that cover region-to-region cooperation. More than 150 events have been held, and this helps create a supportive environment for promoting relations between our two countries.

Here is what I would like to point out specifically: of course, I understand that we share concerns about security developments in Europe, and I want to thank you for the fact that France invariably and strongly participates in the development of fundamental decisions in this area.

This has been the case with our relations in recent years. It is symbolic that we are meeting today because a fundamental document, the agreement on special relations between Russia and France, was signed 30 years ago today.

Notably, throughout these years, as I have mentioned, France has taken a very active part in addressing fundamental European security issues. Your predecessors did the same. France engaged in addressing the crisis that broke out after Georgia attacked South Ossetia, and in developing the Minsk agreements, and then organising the Normandy format. I appreciate the amount of effort invested by the current leadership of France and personally the President of France in resolving the crisis around the need to ensure equal security in Europe for an extended historical perspective, and in overcoming the challenges that are related to resolving the domestic crisis in southeastern Ukraine.

We discussed these matters over the telephone in great depth. I am aware that you have your own thoughts on this matter, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet with you in person to discuss these things.

Welcome, Emmanuel.

President of France Emmanuel Macron (retranslated): Thank you very much, Mr President, thank you very much, Vladimir.

Indeed, today is the 30th anniversary of resuming diplomatic relations, and I would like to reiterate that bilateral relations have made it possible to focus on many issues.

We have many hopes in the cultural, academic and scientific spheres. We hope to continue the Trianon Dialogue together and advance the economic agenda.

The critical situation in Europe is our shared concern, and our continent – you pointed this out – is in a critical situation, so we all need to act with great responsibility.

Together we laid the foundation for an open, straight, and full-fledged dialogue in 2019. Since then, there have been several exchanges of views in St Petersburg, Bregançon and other venues, and I believe this dialogue remains as relevant as ever.

We need this dialogue, because it is the only thing that, I think, can ensure genuine stability and security for the European continent. In this context, we have had several telephone conversations in recent weeks, as you mentioned. Despite the crisis, I had a chance to exchange views with President Zelensky about Ukraine, as well as to coordinate views with many Europeans and Allies, including the British, Americans and Canadians.

I think today’s conversation can pave the way to de-escalation, which is where we should be heading. We are aware of the military-political situation and the Ukraine issue. You noted its importance, including the Normandy format, security issues in Belarus and the entire region, as well as important collective security issues, which we will cover later.

I am glad we have this opportunity to discuss these issues in depth, so that we can collectively begin to develop a practical response for Russia and the whole of Europe. A useful and practical response would be one that helps avoid war and build stability, transparency and trust for all.

Thank you very much for your warm welcome and for your time.


News conference following Russian-French talks

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Kremlin and to host the President of the French Republic, Mr Emmanuel Macron in Russia.

It appears symbolic that our meeting is taking place on February 7 (it looks like it will end on February 8, Moscow time), the day when a fundamental treaty between Russia and France was signed 30 years ago. That vital document provided a reliable foundation for the development of bilateral cooperation based on partnership and mutual respect for decades to come. Our talks with President Macron today were held in a business-like atmosphere and were substantive and meaningful.

It is clear to us that Mr President has come to Russia primarily to discuss the current issues of European and global security, for which our countries bear special responsibility as permanent members of the UN Security Council. In addition to this, France is holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

During the talks, we continued to exchange views on the proposals regarding long-term legally binding security guarantees, which Russia has made to the United States and NATO. I would like to remind everyone that these proposals include three key points: NATO’s non-expansion, non-deployment of offensive weapon systems near the Russian border, and the return of the bloc’s European capabilities and infrastructure to the 1997 level, when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed.

Regrettably, the replies from the USA and NATO, which we received on January 26, disregard these concerns of fundamental importance to us. Moreover, our Western partners once again said that all states have a right to freely choose their security arrangements and to enter into any military blocs and alliances. Well, we never questioned this principle. On the other hand, it is also obvious that these blocs and alliances have no obligation to admit any country that wishes to join them.

This open-door policy, which we have discussed with many of our partners, including with President Macron today, is very liberal. We believe that only the United States and possibly several other NATO members are benefitting from this interpretation of the fundamental principle of equal and indivisible security, which has been set down in many European documents and includes, as we all know, a pledge not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of the security of other states.

The reference to the open-door policy, which I have mentioned, is questionable as well. I would like to repeat (I have said this on numerous occasions, including in this very room during a recent news conference following Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban’s visit) that according to Article 10 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the member states may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European state in a position to contribute to European security to accede to that treaty. But this does not mean that the bloc is obligated to admit any country, as I have said as well. All right.

However, I would like to point out that they continue trying to placate Russia with deliberations that NATO is a peaceful and purely defensive alliance. People in many countries, namely Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have learned the truth of this statement the hard way, and this is also true about the large-scale military operation against Belgrade waged without a UN Security Council sanction, which is definitely not an operation that could be waged by a peaceful organisation.

In addition, we cannot overlook the fact that the 2019 NATO Military Strategy openly describes Russia as the main security threat and an adversary. NATO has designated Russia an adversary. Moreover, while advancing its military infrastructure very close to our border, NATO and its member states believe that they have a right to teach us where and how we can deploy our armed forces. They consider it acceptable to demand that we do not hold planned drills and exercises and present the movement of our troops on our own – I repeat, our own – territory as a threat of a Russian invasion, in this case the invasion of Ukraine. They claim that the Baltic states and our other neighbours feel threatened as well. In any case, this presumption is being used to pursue an unfriendly policy towards Russia.

As for the NATO member-countries themselves, they continue to pump Ukraine with modern weapons to this accompaniment, allocating substantial financial resources to modernise the Ukrainian army, and sending military specialists and instructors to Ukraine.

Mr President and I have certainly spoken about this. As you can see, it took us a rather long time: the discussion went on for nearly six hours.

For our part, we have made a point of drawing Mr President’s attention to the reluctance of the current Kiev authorities to meet their commitments under the Minsk Package of Measures and the Normandy format agreements, including those reached at the summits in Paris and Berlin.

In my opinion, it is clear to everyone that the current authorities in Kiev have set a course for dismantling the Minsk accords. There are no shifts on such fundamental issues as constitutional reform, amnesty, local elections, and the legal aspects of a special status for Donbass. The well-known Steinmeier Formula – well-known to specialists, at any rate – when we have approved certain amendments to the Minsk accords and made definite concessions, is yet to be included in Ukrainian legislation. But even these items presented by the current President of the Federal Republic of Germany – at that time, he was the German foreign minister – are not being implemented. Kiev is still disregarding all opportunities for a peaceful restoration of the country’s territorial integrity via direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.

I have directed Mr President’s attention to the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Ukraine. Dissenting media are closed in the country and political opponents are exposed to reprisals. Incidentally, when Mr Poroshenko was the President of Ukraine, I told him that Russia was ready to grant him political asylum, if he faced problems in the future. He was highly ironic in this regard at the time, but today I would like to reiterate my offer. Despite our serious differences regarding this matter, I mean the settlement in Donbass, as well as the fact that, to my mind, he has made a lot of mistakes in this area, his persecution as a state criminal is also, in my view, an exorbitant ‘bid for success’ on the part of today’s leaders. Russia is ready to grant asylum to Mr Poroshenko and persons like him.

What worries me most of all is that they are adopting legislation that discriminates against Russian speakers, who have been denied the right to be recognised as a core nation in what is, properly speaking, their homeland, and the right to speak their native language, which is quite odd because this is in no way reflected in the approaches adopted by the European countries.

We hope that Mr President intends – at any rate, he said so earlier today – to discuss what we have discussed today as regards European security and stability guarantees at his meeting with the Kiev leaders tomorrow.

We also touched upon other topical international and regional matters.

While reviewing the situation around Nagorno Karabakh, we noted the positive role of the Russian peacekeepers who are ensuring compliance with the ceasefire regime and helping the region return to peaceful life. We reaffirmed the great significance of efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs in addressing topical humanitarian and socioeconomic matters in the region, among other things. The President of France informed us of the results of his recent videoconference meeting with President of the European Council Charles Michel, the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia.

We reviewed the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme and efforts to resume the full-fledged implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, adopted in 2015 and approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2231. We agree that it is necessary to continue diplomatic efforts and to assist in the coordination of compromise solutions in the interests of preserving this highly important document. We agreed that our positions are very similar here or, as the diplomats say, they match.

Naturally, we did not overlook topical matters of bilateral relations, primarily those regarding economic interaction. Despite the complicated situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and volatility on the global markets, we underscored and noted that mutual trade grew by 71 percent in 11 months of 2021. French investment in Russia exceeds $23 billion. Over 600 French companies are operating successfully on the Russian market.

Overall, we agreed to continue our mutually beneficial cooperation in politics, trade and the economy, as well as in other spheres, including cultural and humanitarian ties.

To conclude, I would like to thank Mr President for his efforts and the efforts of France to resolve a highly acute matter linked with our relations with NATO in general, matters linked with maintaining security, creating a situation of stability and mutual trust on the European continent and, of course, resolving the crisis in southeastern Ukraine.

We have already met in Paris, and I know that, despite numerous problems facing any state leader, especially the leader of a major European state, Mr President deemed it necessary to come to Russia and to exchange opinions on how we should act in the future. I believe that, although it is still too early to talk about some of his ideas and proposals, it is possible to make them the foundation of our future joint steps.

Let us see what Mr President’s meeting will achieve in Kiev. We agreed that we will speak on the telephone after his trip to the capital of Ukraine and exchange opinions on this matter.

Thank you.

President of France Emmanuel Macron (retranslated): Thank you very much, Mr President. Thank you, Vladimir.

Thank you for this opportunity to come here at this complicated moment when the pandemic has not ended yet. Indeed, we are now marking the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations, of this bilateral agreement you mentioned.

I will not discuss relations between our two countries in greater detail at present because we now realise that the situation is serious, and all of us should find a way, a peaceful path, a path towards stability in Europe. We still have the opportunity and the time to do this. The historical and strategic dialogue that we have developed over the past years can help accomplish this. We have decided to meet in precisely this context in Moscow today.

We held very substantial, to-the-point talks. We focused on current areas of tension and on options for de-escalation, to facilitate stability and security on our continent.

Mr President, you recalled history, NATO, the Ukrainian issue, and you mentioned the most diverse matters.

We can see that you have a very strong position, which does not always coincide with the European and Western position. It is necessary to underscore this. We have different views, and we need to understand and accept this. We discussed this in great detail. I believe in Europe and European unity, and this is a fundamental matter.

Indeed, NATO’s open-doors policy was heeded, and this is very important. These matters have existential significance for Sweden and Finland, for example, and it would be difficult to tell them all of a sudden that NATO is modifying its position.

However, we also heeded your statement that traumas had been inflicted over the past 30 years, and that it is necessary to build new mechanisms that would facilitate stability in the region. However, it is impossible to build these new provisions without revising fundamental principles or by limiting fundamental European rights that are currently not mentioned as part of the disagreements that we are discussing. I believe that this is a fundamental aspect.

Having said all this, we, nevertheless, tried to find points where our positions coincided, so as to make headway on them in the near future. Firstly, it is necessary to work very quickly to avoid any escalation. Tensions continue to rise today, and this exacerbates the risk of destabilisation. This is not in anyone’s interests.

Neither Russia, nor the Europeans need chaos and instability at a time when the nations and the continent have suffered so much from the pandemic. Everyone wants recovery and peace. This is why we need to come to an agreement on practical stabilisation and de-escalation measures.

We have discussed this together. This should be reaffirmed within the next few days or weeks. The result will depend on the talks and consultations with the United States, NATO and the Europeans, as well as on the outcome of my meeting with President Zelensky tomorrow.

I would like to point out that President Vladimir Putin has said that he is ready to act in accordance with this logic so that these initiatives are balanced, including when it comes to the issue of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In other words, the next few days will be decisive. The intense discussions, which we have already begun, will contribute to this.

What should be very clear from our conversation is that reliable de-escalation calls for making headway on fundamental matters. We had a lengthy discussion on these matters. We must jointly show the will to work on security guarantees and to build a new security and stability order in Europe. It must be based on the foundation we have created together as sovereign states.

This is the principle of existence for all states. I am referring to Russia, France and the other states that are also parties to these treaties. Therefore, this is the fundamental principle of European security. We have approved them by signing the Paris Charter and the subsequent OSCE declarations. It should be said that these rights have been questioned and violated. I am not talking about border violations but about the principle of territorial integrity and violations of international law, of human rights and basic freedoms.

Whatever the historical interpretations of various crises and incidents may be, to maintain the security of our continent as we have said many times, we must not repeat the past mistakes.

We talked for several hours today. But we also talked about this in the past, several years ago. I understand that opinions can differ and that there can be misunderstandings and even traumatic elements. I know that many EU countries did not have the same experience in the 20th century as France did. We must not forget this experience, which has not faded away over the past 30 years. However, we cannot accept the collective risk of another confrontation between spheres of influence in Europe, another period of instability and unrest. This is creating new grievances and new threats. Starting a conflict is easy but ending it and building a lasting peace is difficult.

Therefore, I do not believe that we must choose between new rules and the absence of rules. This is optimism based on will, as I see it. Russia is committed to sovereignty and rights, but I believe that we can create security and stability in Europe by reaffirming our achievements within the framework of the OSCE. At the same time, we must also find new solutions, which should probably be more innovative.

As for our ability to offer concrete security guarantees, we raised this issue directly during our conversation, respecting the interests of all our European brothers and ensuring their stability and security, as well as with due regard for the security guarantees proposed by Russia, our neighbour and friend.

I have told President Putin that I was concerned about the draft Constitution of Belarus, which is lacking two fundamental principles that were sealed in 1994. I am also concerned about the statement on nuclear weapons made by Alexander Lukashenko in December. I would like to say that President Putin has put my mind at rest regarding this.

I am indeed concerned about these matters, because they are increasing destabilisation. We should work together on practical security guarantees for the EU member states and for the regional countries, namely Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and Russia. This is the goal we must pursue.

In the course of our conversation, we coordinated several proposals. I would like to note that there are points of contact between the positions of France, Russia, NATO and the United States. We will continue practical talks with all our partners to create these new guarantees of peace and security.

Russia has long asked for certain security guarantees, such as restrictions on military deployment and presence of conventional weapons, the transparency of missile defence and on intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. These Russian proposals correspond to the requirements of European states, the EU states. I am sure that a response can only be collective.

We are Europeans, but we are also allies of the United States. We have already demonstrated that we can work together, including within the framework of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Both of us have pointed out that this format can help us make headway on these matters, in particular, on the issues of peace and security, and can help us coordinate common decisions.

The third element on which we have managed to find converging positions, which President Putin has mentioned in his statement, as I have said, is the Ukrainian conflict. I am going to Kiev tomorrow to meet with President Zelensky. Of course, we are doing this jointly with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with whom we coordinated our positions several days ago. I will see him tomorrow. We continue working within the framework of the Normandy format to ensure full compliance with the Minsk agreements and to achieve a complete settlement of the conflict in Donbass.

Serious agreements regarding the ceasefire regime were reached during the recent advisers’ meeting of the Normandy format countries, and now we must move forward in terms of practical steps to ensure a clear and full implementation of these agreements. We have made progress on several technical issues during the talks.

I would like to welcome President Zelensky’s efforts, the specific obligations that he assumed in this format, in particular, to scrap the legislation that was not in line with the Minsk agreements, and President Putin mentioned this. So, this law was withdrawn at President Zelensky’s initiative. We were also given clarification about draft laws proposed in Russia, but we were reassured that this would not happen if they were not in line with the Minsk agreements.

So, this conflict is at the centre of the tension that we are experiencing today, and Russia and the European Union definitely need to resolve it in order to move forward in our relations.

We also mentioned a number of other matters, in particular, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here, I have the pleasure to say that eight prisoners were released this morning. The French crisis response centre provided an aircraft to transport them. Last Friday, President Aliyev, Prime Minister Pashinyan and I had a videoconference meeting, where we discussed missing persons, refugees, and a number of other matters that also affect stability.

During the talks with President Putin, we both expressed coinciding views on a number of matters. I would like to welcome the role that members of your military played on the border during the difficult period in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Both France and Russia also play an appropriate role within the scope of the existing Minsk Group agreements.

We also mentioned the Iranian crisis, and the recent US and EU initiatives. Our positions on this score are also similar. I would rather not talk about it at length, I just want to emphasise that today, at a time that has serious implications for our countries’ collective security and peace, we were able to discuss various aspects and understand the differences in interpretation, the divergence of views, but we also found a similarity of positions. This enables us to move forward. I think we both agree there can be no rational and long-term solution without a political and diplomatic settlement.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be opportunities for additional consultations and contacts with all our European partners, with our allies, as well as with Ukraine and other countries in the region.

We will have the opportunity in the next few days to once again speak by telephone and discuss Ukraine and our collective security. We would like to build a framework of trust that would allow us to move forward. We are determined to maintain stability and peace and to restart the mechanisms of trust in Europe. This is our collective responsibility.

I would like to say that France is reaffirming its commitment to move in this direction.

Thank you.

Question (retranslated): Good afternoon, President Macron, President Putin.

I have a question for both of you.

President Macron, you have seen disappointing results from Russia over the past five years. You have come to Moscow at a time when Russian mercenaries in Mali have put in question our presence there. Does your presence here have any meaning?

President Putin, a simple question for you: do you intend to invade Ukraine?

As for Mali, can you say that your government is not connected in any way with the mercenaries in Mali?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, regarding Mali. President Macron raised this issue many times, we discussed it with him, and President Macron is aware of our position on this matter. The Russian government, the Russian state have nothing to do with the companies that are working in Mali. As far as we know, the Malian leadership has no complaints about the commercial activities of these companies.

Following the logic that may be applied to NATO, the current member states and potential members, if Mali has opted to work with our companies, it has the right to do so. However, I would like to point out – I will talk about this with President Macron after this news conference – I would like to point out that the Russian state has nothing to do with this. It concerns the commercial interests of our companies, which coordinate their activities with the local authorities.

We will take a closer look at this, but we have nothing to do with it. This is the first point.

The second, regarding the situation in Ukraine and the issues we have discussed, the issues of concern to us. I spoke about this right here several days ago, during the news conference after talks with the Prime Minister of Hungary. I would like to say this once again. We are categorically opposed to NATO’s eastward expansion through the admission of new members because we see this as an overall threat of NATO’s continued expansion towards our border. It is not us moving towards NATO but NATO moving towards us. Therefore, saying that Russia is behaving aggressively is at odds with logic. Have we approached anyone’s border? No, it is NATO’s infrastructure that has come close to us. This is my first point.

The second, why is Ukraine’s potential admission into NATO dangerous? The problem does exist. For example, European countries, including France, believe that Crimea is part of Ukraine, but we think that it is part of the Russian Federation. And what happens if attempts are made to change this situation by military means? Bear in mind that Ukraine’s doctrines declare Russia an adversary and state the possibility of regaining Crimea, even using military force.

Just imagine what could happen if Ukraine were a NATO member. Article 5 has not been cancelled. On the contrary, Mr Biden, the President of the United States, has said recently that Article 5 is a sacred obligation and will be honoured. This is fraught with a military confrontation between Russia and NATO. I asked during the above-mentioned news conference, “What are we supposed to do? Fight against the NATO bloc?” But this question has a second part: “Do you want to fight against Russia?” Ask your readers, your audiences and the users of online resources, “Do you want France to fight against Russia?” Because this is how it will be.

Our concerns also have to do with common European security.

As for Donbass, Ukrainian leaders first say that they will implement the Minsk agreements and then they denounce them and say they will never do this because “this would destroy the Ukrainian state.” I have only just mentioned this. Well, will they, or won’t they? This is the question.

They speak of security guarantees from us. But who will guarantee our security? The Ukrainian authorities have already made two attempts to settle the problem of Donbass militarily. When they failed again, the Minsk agreements were coordinated and endorsed by a resolution of the UN Security Council.

So, will they comply with the agreements or not? Or will they make some other attempt? What should we think? After all, they have tried twice, and who can guarantee that they will not try a third time? These questions require a thorough consideration by all of us.

I am deeply grateful to Mr President for discussing these matters in Moscow today. I believe that these security matters concern not only Russia but also Europe and the world as a whole.

Look, our proposals include not only NATO’s expansion, which we oppose, but also a second point: the non-deployment of offensive systems near our borders. If everyone wants peace, tranquillity, well-being and confidence, what is bad about not deploying offensive weapons near our borders? Can anyone tell me what is bad about this?

If NATO is a peaceful organisation, what is bad about returning its infrastructure to the level of 1997, when the NATO-Russia Act was signed? This would create conditions for building up confidence and security. Is this bad?

We can let the open-door pledge be, even though the issue remains on the agenda. It is a key priority for us, and I have explained why. We talked about this for six hours.

Tomorrow, President Macron will fly to Kiev. We have agreed that he will at least put forth his action plan regarding this. I am deeply grateful to him for giving so much attention to this and that he is trying to find a solution to this matter of great importance to all of us.

Emmanuel Macron: To get back to your question, I think that it is first of all France’s responsibility to have the strongest possible relationship with Russia. We are two great European nations and great world powers. We are two permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Bilateral relations are of great importance for us, firstly, to have them develop, and to have common decisions on acute international issues. We are trying to do so on the Iranian issue and attempting to find a point of contact on Libya and other matters. We do have disagreements but we still find compromise. This is obvious to me.

Secondly, I think that President Putin and I agree that Russia is a European country. Those who can see Europe should be able to work with Russia and find ways to build the future in Europe and with Europeans. Is it easy? No, but Europe was also created through difficult initiatives that had immediate effects. So, yes, we do have difficulties but we must not give up.

Finally, this is France’s mission, it is its role. During these six months we are presiding in the European Union. Our role is to make the voice of the European Union heard and take into account a variety of complex circumstances in communication with such neighbours as Russia, which plays a decisive role in our security, and listen to all Europeans as well. I have been doing this over the past days. Being here I am trying to be the person who can make a contribution to finding this proper way.

I have a simple conviction. Do we increase our collective capability for making peace without our contacts with Russia? No, we do not. Who do we leave this role for? For others.

We do have disagreements. We realise that. Sometimes we fail to move forward and it is the result of such disagreements. However, we are trying to find compromises. I consider it to be my responsibility. Our task is to make sure that these compromises protect the interests of our partners and allies. This is why in the coming days and weeks we must start this difficult work, find new decisions in order to protect these guarantees while still protecting our basic principles and our neighbourly relations, because our geography will not change. This is why we carry on.

To be continued.

The Essential Saker IV: Messianic Narcissism's Agony by a Thousand Cuts
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