Macron's last-minute diplomacy on the eve of the Ukraine war

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Until shortly before the Russian attack on Ukraine, Western diplomatic efforts were in full swing to prevent this war. A documentary film shows what Emmanuel Macron attempted.

Behind the scenes of the phone diplomacy between Macron and Putin

It is February 20, 2022 – four days later Russia will attack Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron tries one last time to stop Russia from invading in a desperate phone call with President Vladimir Putin.

The almost two-hour conversation is a key scene in the documentary “The President, Europe and the War” by journalist Guy Lagache. He observed the French government during its EU Council Presidency in the first half of 2022.

The French President's diplomatic staff follows the phone call between Macron and Putin in the next room over loudspeakers. They write notes and support Macron with hints via direct messages.

Apparent familiarity

The two presidents address each other by their first names and are on first-name terms. Macron opens up very directly: “Vladimir, could you first explain to me your assessment of the situation? And quite frankly – as is our way – explain your intentions?”

Putin responded, rather indifferent: “What should I say? You know what happened.” Ukraine is in violation of the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements, which were intended to end the war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin's accusation that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy allegedly wants nuclear weapons has caused Macron's advisors to shake their heads. And the Russian President adds: “Our dear colleague Zelenskyj” is doing nothing to implement the Minsk agreements. “He's lying to you.”

Half a year as an observer for the French government: director Guy Lagache< /p>

“The Complexity of Politics”

The documentary shows Macron's last-minute diplomacy behind the scenes – his phone calls and meetings with Putin, which ended up unsuccessful.

He wants to show how politics, how the complexity of politics works – especially in times of populism and in this case because of the war, said Lagache at the film premiere in Paris.

The French President has his diplomatic persistence and always defended his adherence to an open channel of conversation with Putin. His critics, on the other hand, accuse him of overconfidence and naivety when he thinks he can influence Putin.

Equal negotiations? At least at a great distance. Macron's visit to Putin on February 7th

“I was interested in why Macron keeps talking to Putin, even though he is lying and his troops are committing war crimes. What is his political strategy when he keeps saying that Russia can not be humiliated?” said Lagache in a radio interview.

Controversy over legitimacy

There is a point in the February 20 call where Macron gets loud. He contradicts Putin, who demands that the demands of the separatists be implemented. “I don't know where your lawyers learned the law when they say that in a sovereign state it is the separatists and not the democratically elected government who propose the texts of the law.” Putin countered that the Ukrainian government was not democratically elected. “She came to power in a bloody coup. People were burned alive.” According to the Russian President, it was a bloodbath.

Despite this tense situation, Macron is trying to mediate. He offers to speak to Zelenskyy and asks Putin to withdraw his troops at the border to calm the situation. He also proposes a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Geneva. Putin agrees in principle, but also says he wants to coordinate with his advisors.

The head of the French diplomatic service can be heard at this point in the film saying: “Putin always lies. ” As is well known, the meeting never took place. Instead, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Putin's priorities also become abundantly clear at the end of the call. “Thank you Emmanuel. It is always a pleasure to speak to you because we have a trusting relationship.” And then he adds: “I don't want to hide anything from you, but I want to play ice hockey now.”

Adaptation from English: Sabine Faber