Russian president Vladimir Putin has done his best to prevent Europe having a say in the fate of Ukraine, and Russian and US diplomats will begin talks regarding the Ukrainian conflict in Geneva on Monday, without the EU.
What can Europe do about it, a journalist asked at a press conference at the Élysée Palace.
“One thing is clear: there can be no solution without Europe,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the commission. She spent Friday in Paris with the College of Commissioners, to mark the beginning of France’s six-month rotating presidency of the union.
President Emmanuel Macron said talks between Russia and the US were “a good thing” but that “the EU must also have a dialogue with Russia . . . The geopolitical situation of the region requires that Europe be able to propose its vision of things, act, and sit at the table,” Mr Macron said.
The EU, US and Kiev accuse Russia of having amassed tens of thousands of soldiers on the Ukrainian border, possibly with the intention of invading.
Ambassadors from member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will also meet with Russian officials next week, in the hope of defusing the Ukraine crisis.
“The Russian military build-up around Ukraine continues, accompanied by threats from Moscow if its demands are not accepted,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said following a videoconference of member countries on Friday. He called Russian demands “unacceptable” and said, “The risk of a new conflict is real.”
Suppression of protests
Referring to the suppression of protests in the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, Ms von der Leyen called for “an end to violence” and “restraint” by government forces. Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday that he has “given the order to shoot to kill without warning”. Ms von der Leyen said, “The rights and security of citizens are fundamental and must be guaranteed.”
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Macron looked at each other, smiled and nodded in agreement throughout the press conference, apparently in harmony on all issues. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, also a Macron ally, will visit Paris next week. On January 19th, Mr Macron will deliver a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, followed by a debate.
Mr Macron created a political storm in France this week by saying that he wanted to “emmerder” or make life difficult for those who refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19. He was equally criticised for saying, “When my freedom threatens that of others, I become an irresponsible person. An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.”
The French leader said he stood by his controversial statements. “To be a citizen means having rights and duties, firstly duties,” he said. “Freedom stops where the life of someone else is endangered. Some have turned their freedom, which becomes irresponsible, into a slogan. Not only are they endangering the lives of others, but they are also constraining the freedom of others and I cannot accept that.”
France’s strategy is simple, Mr Macron said: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.” Imposing restrictions on the unvaccinated was “a completely European movement”. He lamented that some “compatriots” were taken in by fear-mongering, “obscurantist speeches” and “are not protecting themselves, when European science, research and technological excellence enables them to do so”.