French candidates condemn Russia as Macron speaks of European ‘unity’

Reconquete candidate Éric Zemmour, who until recently said he "did not believe" in a Russian invasion of Ukraine, said in a statement that he "condemns without reservation the military intervention" ordered by Putin. [EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT]

French politicians, including all candidates in the presidential race, unanimously condemned Russia’s military strike against Ukraine on Thursday (24 February). In a televised speech on Thursday afternoon, President Emmanuel Macron said that Europe will respond “in unity” to Russia’s “act of war”. EURACTIV France reports.

The Left has condemned the violation of international law, describing Putin’s actions as “war” and calling for the pursuit of diplomatic channels so that peace can be restored.

Presidential candidate for radical-left party La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon – who previously advocated for the Western bloc represented by NATO to pursue a “non-alignment” policy with Russia – has now called for “an immediate meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE]” and for the UN to “deliberate urgently” on the topic.

The aim is to obtain “an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukraine,” he added.

Anne Hidalgo, the socialist candidate in the presidential race, has called for “a firm reaction to this unjustified and criminal act” which is “a negation of the autonomy, the independence, of a European country and ally to which we owe solidarity”, she said in a televised speech.

Communist Party candidate Fabien Roussel, speaking to TV broadcaster France 2 Thursday morning, said Putin had made a “declaration of war”, adding that the situation is “serious for the future of peace in Europe”.

Former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira who is also running in the elections, condemned “without the slightest nuance […] the act of war” committed by Putin. Taubira and Green candidate in the race, Yannick Jadot, both joined a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Paris.

Jadot wants weapons to be sent to Ukraine and wants to believe that “together and united, French and Europeans, we will know how to make democracy and the law prevail”, he said in a video posted on his social media accounts.

Another rally in support of the Ukrainian people is expected to take place Thursday evening (24 February) in Paris, with several candidates, notably from the left, expected to participate.

Right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse demanded on Twitter that France and Europe give “a vigorous, coordinated and severe response” to the “war started by Russia in Ukraine”, in particular by imposing “firm” sanctions that “personally target those responsible”.

In a message broadcast on social media and television, she also called for “the immediate convening of the National Assembly and the Senate to debate the situation”.

According to corroborating sources who spoke to EURACTIV France, several MPs from all political sides have also asked for a parliamentary debate on the Ukrainian crisis to be organised in the National Assembly in the coming hours, in the presence of Prime Minister Jean Castex, which has not been confirmed at this stage.

Putin launches full-scale invasion of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday (23 February) with explosions heard soon after across the country and its foreign minister warning a “full-scale invasion” was underway.

The far-right’s response

By contrast, presidential candidates on the far-right have so far refused to label Russia’s operations as “war”.

According to Rassemblement National candidate Marine Le Pen, who also cancelled her campaign obligations Thursday, France should initiate a diplomatic meeting involving the UN and the countries bordering Ukraine to “find peace” and “put an end to this conflict which has lasted years”. This would be a “prerequisite” for the immediate cessation of Russian military operations in Ukraine”, according to the press release shared by her teams.

Reconquete candidate Éric Zemmour, who until recently said he “did not believe” in a Russian invasion of Ukraine, said in a statement that he “condemns without reservation the military intervention” ordered by Putin.

According to him, Macron must “go without delay to Moscow and then to Kyiv to negotiate an immediate cease-fire” and start a peace negotiation process.

European ‘unity’

The French head of state gave his speech Thursday afternoon surrounded by the European, French and Ukrainian flags, after he had convened a Defence Council meeting with some ministers.

Europeans will respond “without weakness, with calmness, determination and unity”, the president said during his speech, adding that Russia had made a “deliberate choice” that “contravenes all commitments made” and international law.

He also assured Ukraine of his support, praising “the courage and determination of the Ukrainian president […] and the Ukrainian people: their freedom is ours”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is carrying out “the most serious attack on peace and stability in our Europe for decades” and is flouting Ukraine’s sovereignty, according to the French leader. Sanctions “in line with the aggression” Russia has committed against Ukraine will be announced, in coordination with European partners, the French president also said.

The West’s joint action will be discussed Thursday afternoon at the G7 meeting, again in the evening at the extraordinary European Council meeting in Brussels and then at the NATO summit – requested by the president earlier in the day – which should take place on Friday (25 February).

The French president also promises to protect “the sovereignty and security of our European allies”.

“The events of this night are a turning point in the history of Europe and of our country. They will have profound consequences for the geopolitics of our continent,” Macron added. “We must not give up our unity around our principles of freedom, sovereignty and democracy,” the president also said.

Macron said he will address the French parliament through a message read by the presidents of the two Chambers on Friday, and hinted at holding additional speeches to update the public on the crisis as it unfolds.

French presidential candidates divided over response to Russia-Ukraine crisis

As tensions run high between the West and Russia over the situation along the Ukrainian border, EURACTIV France analyses the positions of April’s presidential election candidates on Moscow.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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