Macron pledges to help Ukraine preserve its territorial integrity

In this June 17, 2019 photo, French President Emmanuel Macron appears with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Élysée presidential palace in Paris.
In this June 17, 2019 photo, French President Emmanuel Macron appears with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Élysée presidential palace in Paris. © Christophe Ena, AP

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday confirmed France's determination to help Ukraine preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The pledge came as the European Union warned Russia it would face consequences if it invaded Ukraine after amassing troops on the border with its southwestern neighbour.

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Macron said both presidents agreed on the need to relaunch talks under the four-way Normandy format, which involves Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany and aimed, when talks began in 2014 on the sidelines of ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings, to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces.

The conflict has caused more than 13,000 deaths in eastern Ukraine  since 2014.

The French president added that he will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days and that he would speak with Zelensky again in Brussels on December 15.

Macron's phone conversation with Zelensky came amid rising tensions in eastern Europe following Russia's recent build-up of troops near the Ukrainian border.

Following a meeting Friday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris, Macron warned about the risk of self-fulfilling prophecies, following a US intelligence assessment that Russia could be planning a multi-front offensive on Ukraine as early as next year.

The Kremlin denies planning any attack.

"I think that our primary objective is to avoid any unnecessary tension, what I will call self-fulfilling news," Macron told reporters at a joint news conference with Germany's new chancellor.

"What we all want, Europeans and Americans, is to show that we are paying close attention to the situation," said Macron.

Scholz called for new four-way talks with Moscow to de-escalate tensions along Ukraine's border, while also making it clear that rules must be respected by everyone. 

"We will launch further activities to make sure that Ukraine has a good perspective," said Scholz, who was making his first official visit as chancellor.

"We have a good basis that needs to be revived, for example the talks in the Normandy format," he added.

Nord Stream 2 pipeline: 'a source of friction'

Meanwhile the EU on Friday warned Russia that it would face consequences if it invaded Ukraine.

"Aggression needs to come with a price tag, which is why we will communicate these points ahead of time to Russia," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a joint news conference with Scholz in Brussels later on Friday.

Asked if sanctions on Moscow could include shutting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is intended to carry gas to Europe, von der Leyen said that, in general, energy should never be used to exert pressure and the energy security of Europe and its neighbours should be secured.

Scholz, who was in Brussels after his visit to Paris, declined to answer the question on the Russian-German pipeline, saying that while it was clear that the EU and others would react if there was an invasion of Ukraine, talks to prevent such an outcome were also important.

"We know that Germany, a large country at the heart of the European Union, has a responsibility," said Scholz. "We can't just stand at the sidelines and comment on what's going on. No, we have to get into the midst of it all and make a contribution to ensuring progress and a bright future in Europe and that's how we see our role."

Scholz had warned Moscow on Thursday of "consequences" for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany is a major source of friction with many partners, including France, and could play a major role as Western powers threaten punishing new sanctions against Moscow.

"With Nord Stream 2, Germany has the big geopolitical weapon in its hand without ever having sought it," said Ulrich Speck, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund.

NATO chief rejects Russia demand to bar Ukraine entry

Russia on Friday said NATO should formally scrap a 2008 decision to open its door to Georgia and Ukraine, insisting that giving Moscow guarantees on halting the bloc's eastward expansion was in the West's "fundamental" interests.

The Russian foreign ministry also demanded that NATO stop conducting military exercises close to Russia's borders and added that this and other security proposals would be unveiled "in the near future".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg immediately rejected Russia's demand. 

"NATO's relationship with Ukraine is going to be decided by the 30 NATO allies and Ukraine – no one else," said Stoltenberg. "We cannot accept that Russia is trying to re-establish a system where big powers like Russia have spheres of influence, where they can control or decide what other members can do."

Earlier this week Putin and US President Joe Biden held two hours of talks, with the Kremlin chief demanding that the West put in writing guarantees that Ukraine would not become a NATO launchpad.

According to the White House, Biden and Putin agreed that their respective teams would "follow up" on the summit, underlining that the next US move would be "in close coordination with allies and partners".

Zelensky on Friday welcomed Biden's involvement in trying to achieve peace in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region, but added he would not rule out holding direct talks with Putin to solve the issue.

In an interview with a Ukrainian TV station, Zelensky said he did not rule out holding a referendum on the future status of war-torn eastern Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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