“The French are now looking at Ukraine with absolutely different eyes”

By Hanna KALAUR, Tetiana STOLIAROVA, Den’s Summer School of Journalism
6 August, 2014 - 17:44
French Ambassador Alain REMY on Mistrals, values, and energy independence

The Ukrainian-French relations are rather contradictory. On the one hand, the Association Agreement process was launched as long ago as 2008 at the EU-Ukraine summit in Paris. On the other hand, in 2011, during the Sarkozy presidency, France signed an agreement with Russia on the supply of Mistral amphibious assault ships. This is a very acute and painful factor in the relations between Kyiv and Paris. It is planned to deliver the first ship to Russia in the coming autumn. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has expressed disappointment that the Hollande government is planning to do so despite the fact that Russia is now committing aggression against Ukraine. It is the position of France in this matter and many other things that aroused interest of Den’s Summer School of Journalism students during a meeting with the French Ambassador to Ukraine Alain REMY.

Hanna KALAUR, Ostroh Academy, Rivne: “Historically, Ukrainian and French culture and history have intertwined since the times of Kyivan Rus’. Anna Yaroslavna, Honore de Balzac, Martel, and Mykhailo Hrushevsky are the people who used to bring our countries closer in the past and form the two nations’ idea of each other. What do the French know about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people today? Particularly, what is the image of Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs in France?”

A.R.: “There is a good French Alliance in Rivne. Last year I handed a French award to the president of this alliance.

“Yes, we are really closely linked historically. For example, every time I visit Lviv I can see a plaque on the door of a George hotel room, which says that Honore de Balzac stayed there. As for what the French know about Ukraine, very much depends here on Ukrainians themselves. Let me cite an example about Anna Yaroslavna. You know that she died in Senlis, near Paris. The Greek Catholic Church recently bought a church in this town and dedicated it to Borys and Hlib. As this church was ceremonially opened, many visitors spoke about Anna Yaroslavna and our historical ties. The event gathered a lot of Frenchmen and Ukrainians. This is an example of good efforts aimed at spreading the knowledge of Ukraine in France.

“Another example is Pinzel. Had it not been for Borys Voznytsky, there would not have been Pinzel and all his treasures. Nor would there have been this great exhibition at the Louvre 18 months ago. Naturally, this has also changed the French idea of Ukrainians. The Revolution of Dignity, the Euromaidan, made, of course, a lasting impression on France and the entire Europe. Moreover, as this was in the name of Europe, I think France and the French are now looking at Ukraine and Ukrainians with absolutely different eyes compared to the period 8 or 9 months ago. There is now a tremendous interest in Ukraine and Ukrainians. The relations have never been so close and friendly – even after the Orange Revolution. President Poroshenko often speaks to the President of France, and [Foreign] Minister Klimkin is also in touch with his French counterpart. I have rarely seen such close contacts. And when heads of state speak so often, this means they really begin to understand one another more and   better. So, the French, as well as all Europeans, are having the best ever idea of Ukraine. I think this provides a very positive impetus to our future relations, even though there may be misunderstandings and problems sometimes. Anyway, it is a major contribution that people know one another more and better.”

Marta FRANCHUK, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv: “Is France aware of the role of Ukraine as part of the European project? What can and must France and Europe do to help Ukraine stabilize its domestic economic situation as soon as possible?”

A.R.: “Firstly, one must remember what has already been done, including the granting of 27 billion euros to Ukraine. It is quite a large amount of money for two years. And this decision was made rather quickly, within a few weeks. It did not take the IMF, Brussels, and others a month or two to solve this problem – they did it right after the election of a new president.

“We expect the IMF to decide on the second installment, about 1.5 billion dollars, in mid-August. The first installment, 3.17 billion dollars, was paid out as soon as in April – immediately after the decision was made.

“The World Bank has also allocated about 3.5 billion dollars to achieve concrete goals, such as stability of the banking system. Some of the French entrepreneurs, who had accounts in the banks that have vanished from the market, have lost their deposits. These – not only French – businesses do not know if they would be able to work in Ukraine due to the situation in these banks. Maybe, they will have to stop doing their business in Ukraine for this reason.

“This money from the IMF and some other organizations, this international banking aid, is of a concrete nature and is supposed to bail out the Ukrainian economy. But it is also a challenge for Ukraine to utilize this money correctly.

“There is a risk of ‘donor fatigue’ if no important and profound structural reforms are carried out in the economy.”


Tetiana STOLIAROVA, Kharkiv State Academy of Culture: “You said last year that France would support Ukraine as far as signing the EU Association Agreement is concerned and would ratify it if it were finally signed. When can we expect parliament to ratify it?”

A.R.: “The entire Europe is now looking forward to ratification of the treaty by Ukraine itself. Dragging this process out would be an unclear signal to European countries. The first part of the treaty was signed as long ago as March, and the second – commercial – part was signed recently. The Ukrainian people fought for this on the Maidan, some people sacrificed their lives, but Ukraine has not yet ratified the document. The agreement cannot be enforced unless it has been ratified by Ukraine. There still is time until September, but questions will arise thereafter about why the Verkhovna Rada is not ratifying the treaty.”


Khrystyna LUSHYNA, Lviv National University: “Ukraine is now facing an acute problem of energy independence. What help can France give in the field of energy? For the two countries were once interested in cooperation. In what directions is this possible? I mean shale gas and other energy resources.”

A.R.: “Today’s priority for Ukraine is to end dependence on Russian gas. Decades ago France put an end to dependence on many energy resources by introducing nuclear energy.

“Ukraine has gas deposits, but it also has enormous resources in other fields. It    is, for example, renewable sources of energy, such as biomass, solar and wind power – the spheres in which France can cooperate with Ukraine.”


Vlada SOLOVIOVA, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute: “Should the West foist on Ukraine a dialog with terrorists most of whom are Russian commandos and not at all citizens of Ukraine? Does Paris believe that the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in fact a hybrid war with Russia, can be settled diplomatically, as many in the West insist?”

A.R.: “What does Paris believe?! We believed from the very outset that any conflict should be resolved diplomatically. Negotiations really need to be held. If you remember, Paris created all    the conditions for the first meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine on June 6. All that we said later, after the first meeting in Normandy, was aimed at resolving this conflict peacefully, much to the benefit of you, your parents, brothers, and sisters. We can see now that it is far more difficult to do so. The inflow of weapons and unidentified   militants – ‘little green men’ – is never    ending. We saw after the Malaysian liner’s crash what terrible consequences the situation in eastern Ukraine has for the whole world.

“It is dangerous. So our leaders are trying to persuade Russia that it is better to stop supporting separatists. This is being done through sanctions as well as through a dialog. The separatists must provide access to the place of the Boeing 777 crash for rescuers and examiners. And it is, of course, important that Russia should stem the tide of resources over the border to militants.”

Yulia BALKA, Donetsk National University: “What is the attitude of Paris to imposing a third package of sanctions on Russia?”

A.R.: “I have just said it. Sanctions have already been applied to some individuals and legal entities corporations. The list of these entities is being expanded. As for economic sanctions, it is, of course, more difficult.

“It is important, of course, that the price of sanctions be fairly shared by those who impose them. This long and hard work is going on. If it is really necessary to decide on third-level sanctions, the economic price of these sanctions should be equally shared by the countries that apply sanctions. We hope that the threat to impose higher-level sanctions and negotiations with Russia will help achieve the result without sanctions being actually applied.”


Tetiana DIACHENKO, Dnipropetrovsk National University: “The European Parliament has come out against the export of Mistrals to Russia. Angela Merkel has personally requested [France] to suspend the sales. Yet it was decided the other day to supply these warships. Commenting on the French president’s decision to sell the warships, the Ukrainian TV presenter Vitalii Portnykov said that the French had been courageous enough to abolish monarchy, disband the colonial empire, including Algeria, but they lacked courage to cancel the export of Mistrals. The merchant has defeated the citizen and reminded us of the words of Lenin, one of Putin’s predecessors in the Kremlin: ‘The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.’ A century on, French helicopter carriers are playing the role of this rope. Do you think the sale of Mistrals to Russia can be justified? Does France intend to refuse to meet its contractual obligations in order to save its reputation?”

A.R.: “This contract was signed in 2011, and Russia has already paid 80 percent of the amount. The ship will be ready in October. If France refuses to supply it, other countries will say France is a country that breaks contracts. A contract is a contract and a signature is a signature. This is part of international law. Our president said that the first ship must be delivered. But the delivery of a second helicopter carrier will depend on the behavior of Russia.”

T.D.: “President Poroshenko said that he was disappointed with France’s decision not to cancel the supply of Mistrals to Russia. Has the Ukrainian government ever requested you to put the contract on hold?”

A.R.: “As far as I know, the two presidents have not broached this subject so far in their talks. But I will not comment on the comment of your president.”

Dmytro PALCHYKOV, Lviv National University: “On the one hand, the Mistral situation is very pragmatic, for the country strengthens itself at this cost. But, on the other hand, it is, to some extent, a betrayal of values and a policy of double standards. Where is the borderline between healthy pragmatism and a policy of double standards?”

A.R.: “France has been fully supporting Ukraine in all these months. We are aware of the values you are talking about, and we know what must be done. We are striving to back Ukraine by all the possible means. I understand your emotions, but there is no ‘betrayal’ here.”

Kostiantyn TSENTSURA, Zaporizhia National University: “Why is the popularity of far right parties on the rise in France and why are they on friendly terms with Putin? Does this not trouble the French authorities?”

A.R.: “All political parties are free in France, as I think they are in Ukraine. And there is true democracy. What you are describing is the freedom of parties and the freedom of expression. The authorities are not responsible for this.”