Russia, Eurasia, and the West

A French perspective on the Ukrainian crisis

May 17, 2016

The Ukrainian crisis, first political, turned out to be a geo-strategic issue, that could only be solved within the European continent.


The Normandy format was initiated in Bénouville the 6th of June 2014 at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, with the objective to allow a first encounter between Poroshenko and Putin. France is thus a facilitator for negotiations. It did not sign the Minsk agreements but supported them with a declaration.


There are further reasons that make France part of the ‘Normandy Format’. France (under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy) played a great role in the negotiation process in Georgia in 2008, so its intervention today could only be well received by the actors. Secondly, France was present in Budapest in 1994 at the occasion of the Memorandum when Ukraine dismantled its nuclear arsenal. Finally, François Hollande - the president of the Republic, and its foreign minister - Jean-Marc Ayrault, are occidental leaders who have positive relations with Russia, which is also an asset to arbitrate and accelerate the conflict resolution.


Economic ties between France and Ukraine are tenuous. 2.3% of Ukrainian imports were coming from France in 2014 and represented only 0.22% of the French exports. France is therefore more preoccupied by the political and social aspects of the crisis.


The French, following International law, perceive the Russian move as an aggression towards the Ukrainian territorial integrity. If France did not sign the Minsk Agreements, it strongly supports them and is fully committed towards an efficient ceasefire. We all hope that the ceasefire in place since Easter will hold, and be a step further towards the resolution of the conflict.


With the crisis in Ukraine, the perception of Russia by France has clearly changed. From an open optimism at the end of the Cold War with the will to create a Euro-Atlantic space including Russia as a European power, to a relationship that constantly needs to be maintained and strengthened, especially since Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007 initiated an aggressive stance.


If the vote at the National Assembly on the 28th of April 2016 shows a will for increased cooperation with Russia, this needs to be relativized as only 55 deputies voted in favour. What is more, European unity will always prevail in the decision of the French government.


The first priority of the French government is to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and we believe that both France and Germany have enough leverage for that.


This is also shown by the strong will of the Ukrainian population and the creation of their new identity: being a citizen of Ukraine. This identity is pro-European, in favour of a state of law, and against corruption.


It is in this framework that the ‘Ukraine 2020’ plan is being implemented. The Constitutional reform is the most important and will imply a new separation of powers between the president and the Parliament, as well as decentralization.



The main impediments as to the resolution of the conflict are threefold. The non-resolved status of Crimea, the non-full-scale implementation of Minsk 2 (a ‘trust’ issue), and the Internal problems of Kiev’s government.


What we recommend:


On the conflict itself:


1-Give the Ukrainian government the ability to control its borders:

-   amnesty needed on both sides


2-    Need to precise what ‘federalization’ means

-       determine the competencies of each concerned parties (to avoid for instance the delivery of passports from the part of the so-called leader of the Donetsk people’s Republic)

-       the modalities of the local elections in Donbas (need to take into account that a majority of people left, and necessity of international observance)

-       the securitization of the elections


3-Encourage the OSCE special monitoring mission including

-   the training on human rights monitoring and hate crime

-   workshops on political parties financing

-   meeting on women’s participation

-   seminars on Parliamentary ethics

-   dialogue among religious or belief communities, civil society organizations, and relevant state bodies

-   need to develop a stronger institutional framework for minority policy and to promote a balanced approach to issues of language and identity, including multiple perspectives on history

-   media freedom and security of journalists

-   build confidence and promote reconciliation

-   combat trafficking in human beings


4-     Allow a full access for OSCE and ONG for humanitarian purposes


On Ukraine’s future:


5-    Ukraine needs to affirm its foreign policy

-       its governance should respond to the will of its population, and be realistic with the expectations of its partners

-       Ukraine has a role to play in Europe despite its internal problems


6-    reinforce the ‘citizen’ identity as opposed to the ‘ethnic’ identity

-       by authorizing both languages at school

-       by stopping the stigmatization of people living in the East side (incumbent authorities have to be differentiated from the people)



On Ukraine-Russia cooperation:


7-    Ukraine could be at the centre of an economic zone constituted by both the EU and the EEU:

-       This would help rebuild the country: would favour the environment for companies in Ukraine (for Europeans as well as Russian ones) and for investment

-       would soften the questions of integration within both organizations

-       would avoid Russia’s isolation

-       This would increase the exchanges between the EU and Russia and potentially lay down the stepping stones towards a trade facilitation deal and ultimately a free-trade zone through-out the whole of Eurasia.



To conclude, France keeps an objective point of view on the conflict. Its only aim is the resolution of the conflict and the protection of the integrity of the territory of Ukraine and of its citizens. If it advocates European values in Ukraine, France is not in favour of the integration of Ukraine into the European Union for the time being. It wants Ukraine to be able to decide on its foreign policy, and wish for an increased cooperation between the three players.



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