Several days before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on February 20, Russian President Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron held a telephone conversation. During the talk, Putin called for pressure on Zelensky to allow Ukraine to begin direct talks with “D/LPR” militants, while Macron tried to persuade him to hold another meeting with US President Joe Biden.
The transcript of the conversation was published jointly by AFP and Le Temps. This conversation will appear in a documentary about the scenes of the Elysee Palace, which will be shown on June 30.
Babel publishes a translation of a transcript of a conversation between Putin and Macron.
Emmanuel Macron: Tensions have been rising since our last conversation. You know my commitment to dialogue and my determination to continue it. First I would like to know your vision of the situation, and then tell me directly how we both handle it, what your intentions are. Then I want to know if there are any other smart actions that can be done and what else I can suggest.
Vladimir Putin: What else can I say? You see for yourself what is happening. You and Chancellor Scholz told me that Zelensky was ready to make a gesture that he had prepared a bill for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. […] In fact, our dear colleague Mr. Zelensky is not doing anything. He is lying to you. […] I donʼt know if you heard his statement yesterday that Ukraine should have access to nuclear weapons.
At this point, Macronʼs diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonn says, "No, thatʼs not true, nonsense."
I also heard your comments at a press conference in Kyiv on February 8. You said that the Minsk agreements should be revised, I quote, "so that they can be applied".
Macronʼs advisers talk to each other: "No, he didnʼt say that," "Iʼll tell him not to go into a detailed discussion with him."
Macron: Vladimir, first of all, I never said that the Minsk agreements should be revised. I did not say this in Berlin, Kyiv or Paris. I said that they must be adopted and their provisions must be respected. I have a completely different idea of the events of recent days.
Putin: Listen, Emmanuel, I donʼt understand what your problem with the separatists is. At least they did everything necessary, at our request, to start a constructive dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities.
Macron: There are a few remarks about what you said, Vladimir. First of all, the Minsk agreements are a dialogue with you, you are absolutely right in this. In this context, it was not envisaged that the discussion would be based on a document provided by the separatists. So when your negotiator tries to force Ukrainians to discuss a separatist "road map", he shows disrespect for the Minsk agreements. Separatists are not the ones who will make proposals to [change] Ukrainian laws.
Putin: Of course, we have a very different view of the situation. During our last conversation, I reminded you and even read Articles 9, 11 and 12 of the Minsk agreements.
Macron: They are in front of my eyes! It clearly states that Ukraineʼs proposal should be agreed with representatives of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in a trilateral meeting. This is exactly what we propose to do. So I donʼt know where your lawyer studied law. I just look at these texts and try to apply them! And I donʼt know which lawyer could tell you that in a sovereign state, the texts of laws are made up of separatist groups, not democratically elected authorities.
Putin (irritated tone): This is not a democratically elected government. They came to power as a result of a coup, people were burned alive there, it was a bloodbath, and Zelensky was one of those responsible [for that]. Listen to me carefully: the principle of dialogue is to take into account the interests of the other party. There is a proposal, the separatists, as you call them, sent it to the Ukrainians, but did not receive a response. Where is the dialogue here?
Macron: But thatʼs because I told you we werenʼt interested in the separatistsʼ proposals. We ask them to respond to the proposals of Ukrainians, and everything should be done in this way, because this is the law! What you have just said casts doubt on how ready you are to abide by the Minsk agreements if you think you have to deal with the illegitimate power of terrorists.
Putin (very annoyed): Listen to me carefully. Can you hear me? I will repeat once again. The separatists, as you call them, reacted to the proposals of the Ukrainian authorities. They responded, but the same authorities did not follow their example.
Macron: Yes, okay. Based on their response to Ukraineʼs proposals, I suggest that we demand that all parties meet within the working group and continue to move forward. Tomorrow, we can ask for this work to be done and demand that all stakeholders abandon the "empty seat" policy. However, in the last few days, the separatists have not expressed a desire to join this discussion. I will demand this from Zelensky immediately. We agreed? If so, I will start and demand a meeting tomorrow.
Putin: Letʼs agree, as soon as we finish our conversation, I will study these proposals. But from the beginning it was necessary to put pressure on Ukrainians, only nobody wanted to do it.
Macron: Well, no, Iʼm doing my best to push them, you know that well.
Putin: I know, but, unfortunately, it is ineffective.
Macron: I need you to help me a little. The situation on the line of contact is very tense. I really called Zelensky yesterday and called him to calm down. I will tell him again that everyone needs to calm down: calm down [people] on social networks, calm down the army of Ukraine. But what else I see is that you can call on your troops, who have almost taken up positions, to calm down. There was a lot of shelling yesterday. What do you say — how will [Russian] military exercises develop?
Putin: The exercises are going according to plan.
Macron: So tonight they will end, right?
Putin: Yes, probably tonight, but we will definitely leave the troops at the border until the situation in Donbas is resolved. The decision will be made after discussions with the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.
Macron: All right. Vladimir, I will tell you honestly, for me the primary task is to return the discussion in the right direction and reduce the level of tension. And itʼs important to me, and Iʼm really asking you to keep the situation under control. This is the most important thing now. And Iʼm counting on you. Do not succumb to provocations, no matter what they were in the next hours and days. I wanted to make you two very specific suggestions. The first is to arrange a meeting between you and President Biden in Geneva in the next few days. I spoke to him on Friday night and asked if I could make you this offer. He asked to tell you that he was ready. President Biden also considered appropriate ways to de-escalate the situation, taking into account your requirements and clearly approaching NATO and Ukraine. Name a date that suits you.
Putin: Thank you, Emmanuel. It is always a great pleasure and an honor for me to speak with your European colleagues, as well as with the United States. And Iʼm always very pleased to talk to you, because we have a relationship of trust. So, Emmanuel, I suggest you replay everything. First of all, you need to prepare this meeting in advance. Only then will we be able to speak — otherwise, if we come to talk about everything and nothing, we will simply be condemned by everyone.
Macron: But can we say today, following these discussions, that we have agreed in general? I would like to get a clear answer from you. I understand your reluctance to name a date, but are you ready to run ahead and say, "I want to have a bilateral meeting with the Americans and then an extended one with the Europeans." Or not?
Putin: This is a proposal that deserves attention, and if you want us to formulate it well, then I suggest asking our advisers to talk on the phone to agree […] But in general I agree.
Macron: Very well, you have confirmed that you generally agree. I suggest that our staff […] try to prepare a joint statement, such as a press release following this conversation.
Putin: Honestly, I was going to play hockey. Iʼm talking to you from the gym before training. But first I will call my advisers.
Macron: In any case, thank you, Vladimir. We will be in touch. When something clears up — call me.
Putin (in French): Thank you, Mr. President.