(Bloomberg) — French President Emmanuel Macron offered his strongest support for Ukraine yet after comments on the need to communicate with Russia sparked a backlash.
“Ukraine will decide when the conditions are met to build peace, and what these political conditions are,” Macron said on Thursday, during an official visit to Kyiv with Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Mario Draghi.
A French diplomat traveling with the president said all territory conquered by Russia, including Crimea, should be restored to Ukraine. An adviser to Macron has previously said that the occupation of Crimea was illegal, therefore Russian troops had to withdraw from that area to comply with international law.
Macron has repeatedly said France unambiguously supports Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. His insistence on this point has grown stronger amid criticism of his calls to not “humiliate” Moscow.
Speaking from Moldova on Wednesday, the 44-year-old president said dialog between Ukraine and Russia will have to resume — after Kyiv’s victory, not before. The timeline was reinforced by an official in Macron’s office.
Macron has tried to position himself as a bridge between Russia and the West, regularly speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as well as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and describing his country’s role as a mediating power. Macron said Thursday he didn’t exclude speaking to Putin again.
But so far, he’s failed to secure concessions from Moscow.
Earlier Thursday, when asked about the backlash caused by his call not to shame Russia, Macron said he already had “several explanations” with Zelenskiy.
“I have always been consistent: France has been at Ukraine’s side since day one, and President Zelenskiy himself has always wanted to talk to President Putin,” he told reporters. “We stand by the Ukrainian people without ambiguity.”
Macron also said his comments were taken out of context and that he meant one shouldn’t humiliate “Russia” and “Russian leaders,” but that his comments didn’t apply to Putin.
“We stand side by side with Chancellor Scholz. One hundred years ago, we were at war. Allies helped France to win. France made a historic mistake: It lost peace because it wanted to humiliate Germany,” he said. “Today, Russia is waging war against Ukraine. How do you want for me to explain to a Ukrainian that you shouldn’t humiliate Russia?”
Macron’s proposal to create a “European Political Community” — a new informal alliance that could include Ukraine but also the U.K. because it will take time for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union — had also raised eyebrows in Kyiv. On Thursday, Macron and other leaders said they backed Ukraine’s candidacy to the EU.
“Beyond this path that is beginning, we will also have to find new ways to exchange and build in the short term the answers to which Ukraine is entitled to — in the areas of security, energy, mobility, infrastructure reinforcement and youth,” Macron said. “Because Ukraine shares our democratic values and belongs to our continental space, it is natural that we can also accelerate the short-term responses.”