Hollande eyes end to Russia sanctions, rules out solo action in Libya


French President François Hollande discussed the options for lifting sanctions on Russia, ruled out unilateral military action in Libya and addressed Greece’s looming snap election in a wide-ranging interview Monday on France Inter radio.


The unprecedented two-hour interview with France Inter radio was aimed at championing a string of economic reforms and reversing Hollande’s record-low approval ratings. It also gave the French president a chance to state his views on a range of foreign policy issues. FRANCE 24 looks at the key international topics he addressed.

  • ‘Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine – he told me that’

The French president said biting Western sanctions against Russia should be lifted if progress were made in resolving the Ukraine crisis. "I think the sanctions must stop now. They must be lifted if there is progress. If there is no progress the sanctions will remain," he said. The sanctions began in March after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and have since been stepped up amid claims Russia is stoking separatist conflict in the country’s east. "Mr Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine. He has told me that," said Hollande. "What he wants is to remain influential. What he wants is for Ukraine not to fall into the NATO camp," the French leader added. Hollande struck an optimistic note ahead of January 15 talks in Kazakhstan, where Ukraine's Western-backed leader Petro Poroshenko is to meet Russia's Vladimir Putin. The leaders of France and Germany are also expected to attend the meeting in Astana. "I will go to Astana on January 15 on one condition, which is that there should be a possibility of making new progress. If it's just to meet and talk without making any actual advances then there's no point. But I think there will be progress," he said. The crisis in Ukraine has prevented France from completing the delivery of two "Mistral-class" warships to Russia. Paris has pushed back the delivery of the €1.2 billion vessels "until further notice", and could be liable for a hefty fine if it breaches the contract.

  • No solo intervention in Libya

Hollande ruled out unilateral military intervention in Libya, which is mired in the worst fighting since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. “France will not intervene in Libya because it's up to the international community to take its responsibility,” he said, though adding that French forces would strike Islamist extremists leaving the country’s lawless south to bring arms to Africa’s Sahel region. Libya has collapsed into a chaos of warring militias and rival governments, and is awash with weapons that are smuggled to militant groups spreading unrest through an arc of countries stretching from Chad to Mali. Hollande said French forces would strike jihadist fighters and arms smugglers “every time they leave these places where they are hiding'' in southern Libya, which his defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has described as a “terrorist hub”. France is setting up a military base in northern Niger, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Libyan border. French forces already operate drones out of Niger's capital, Niamey, in partnership with the US. When asked if France would take part in a broader United Nations-mandated operation to pacify Libya, Hollande said there would have to be a "clear mandate", "clear organisation" and the "political conditions" would have to be in place. "We're not yet going down that road," he added.

  • Greece ‘free to choose’

With three weeks to go ahead of a critical general election in Greece, Hollande said the Greeks were “free to choose their own destiny” but also bound by their European commitments. Polls say the January 25 snap election could see victory for the left-wing Syriza party, which has vowed to scrap austerity policies imposed by Greece’s EU partners and negotiate a write-off of half the country’s debt. The prospect of a Syriza government has roiled jittery markets and revived fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Hollande’s warning not to interfere with the Greek election has been interpreted as a swipe at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has described a Greek exit from the euro as “almost inevitable” should Syriza come to power. Greece alone can decide," Hollande said, though adding that “there are certain engagements that have been made [by Greek governments] and all those must be of course be respected".


(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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