Hollande emerges as peacemaker at G7 dinner

The G7 dinner held yesterday (4 June). [French Presidency]

French President François Hollande emerged as the peacemaker, following the working dinner of the world’s leading industrialised nations Group of Seven (G7) held in Brussels yesterday (4 June). The French President will host further diplomatic contacts, involving the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, today and tomorrow.

G7 leaders urged Russia to recognise the result of the Presidential election held in Ukraine on 25 May, to stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border, and cooperate with the authorities in Kyiv.

Meeting in Brussels for the first time, the leaders of the USA, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Canada and Japan, as well as the presidents of the EU Council and Commission, issued a communiqué, confirming that they stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions against Russia “and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the press after the leaders’ dinner that the circumstances in eastern Ukraine cannot be allowed to deteriorate further, and that Western leaders are ready pressure Moscow into using its influence on pro-Russian separatists.

“If we do not have progress in the questions we have to solve, there is the possibility of sanctions — even heavier phase 3 sanctions — on the table, because we cannot afford a further destabilization in Ukraine,” Merkel said.

She added that Western governments would check “again and again” on the progress in Ukraine.

“The destabilization of the situation in eastern Ukraine has unfortunately continued very strongly in recent days,” Merkel said.

Good cop – bad cop

But Hollande, who spoke at the same time in a separate press conference, left the door open for Russia, and insisted that conditions had been created for de-escalation.

The French President, who is hosting a celebration of D-Day in Normandy on Friday, where he has invited also Russia President Vladimir Putin, presented this event as a “continuation” of the effort of G7 to solve the Ukrainian crisis.

Hollande said he had invited Putin to Normandy after having consulted with France’s main partners. But he also appeared to anticipate criticism that this move could convey the message to Moscow that relations were returning to normal after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“I did it [invite Putin], because […] we know what we owe to the Russian people, or more precisely, to the Soviet people at that time,” he said, praising the “heroism” of the Soviet forces, which indeed carried the heaviest weight in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany.

“This is why President Putin needed to be present on 6 June. The victory against the Nazi barbarism has been possible thanks to the landing, thanks to the will of the Allied countries, and by the Russian people”, Hollande said.

The French President said that he had also invited Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, immediately after his election on 25 May, and that he had informed Putin about it.

“We will have on 6 June a celebration, a commemoration that (evokes the) war, but which could also allow peace to be preserved, for today and for tomorrow,” Hollande said.

It is expected that Putin and Poroshenko would meet in Normandy, as both sides have issued signals for their readiness to speak to each other. Bilateral meetings between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, are already on the agenda. It is less certain, however, that US President Barack Obama, and Putin, would hold a bilateral meeting. In fact, Hollande is hosting separate dinners tonight, the first with Obama, and the second with Putin.

But in any case, Hollande said that there will be a moment when all leaders present in Normandy will be together.

“On 6 June we will all be together, at lunch, and there will be a photo. One photo, in which all heads of state and government will be united. And in a certain way, this photo is a commitment for them,” the French President said.

Hollande fielded several questions, about the sale of two Mistral-class helicopter assault warships to Russia. Poland, in particular, has asked Paris to scrap the deal. But Hollande said the contract would go ahead, unless the “stage three” of sanctions, which includes trade, would be decided.

Hollande was also pressed by questions regarding the French bank BNP Paribas, which the US authorities prepare to punish by a multibillion-dollar fine for having infringed US sanctions against Iran and Cuba several years ago. The French President said he would discuss the issue further with Obama, stressing that the consequences of such a move could hit the entire Eurozone.

Putin ready to meet Obama

Speaking in Moscow to French journalists, Putin said yesterday that he was prepared to speak to Obama. He also denied that Russian troops or advisers were operating in southeastern Ukraine.

“There are no Russian military men or instructors in the southeast of Ukraine,” he said.

He added that Ukraine’s leaders should engage in dialogue, rather than the military offensive underway, in the separatist regions.

The G7 communiqué in fact urges Poroshenko “to reach to all the people of Ukraine” and the Ukrainian authorities “to maintain a measured approach in pursuing operations to restore law and order”.

“We also encourage the Ukrainian parliament and the Government of Ukraine to continue to pursue constitutional reform in order to provide a framework for deepening and strengthening democracy and accommodating the rights and aspirations of all people in all regions of Ukraine,” the leaders state.

Energy to be discussed today

The G7 meeting continues today with discussions of global issues, including energy, which is likely to bring back the topic of Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of the G7 meeting Wednesday, Commission President José Manuel Barroso warned that the European Commission was ready to open new infringement procedures against EU members if they would proceed with the building of the Gazprom-favoured South Stream gas pipeline, which is in breach of EU law.

Bulgaria, the country where the South Stream pipeline would emerge from the Black Sea, has already been warned it should freeze construction [read more].

“We have just launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria, which shows that we mean business. Other infringement procedures related to other countries will follow, if some of the obstacles to the respect of our internal market are not removed meanwhile”, Barroso said.

Barroso is under tremendous pressure to sort out the legal mess around South Stream, ahead of the 26-27 June EU summit, which will focus precisely on the issue of how to decrease the Union’s dependence from Russian energy.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate. 

  • 5 June: Two separate dinners of French President François Hollande with US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin;
  • 7 June: Inauguration ceremony of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv;
  • 26-27 June: Spring EU summit.

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