Russia must not be humiliated in Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron has said, to allow an improvement in diplomatic relations between the west and Moscow whenever the war comes to an end.
The French president said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had made a “historic and fundamental” error in invading Ukraine, but that nevertheless a wider escalation in hostilities had to be avoided.
Giving an interview to a group of regional newspapers in his home country, Macron said: “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day the fighting stops, we can build a way out through diplomatic channels.”
The role of France was to be that of “a mediating power”, the president added, saying he had put “time and energy” into ensuring the conflict did not escalate into a wider war, including negotiating with the Russian president.
“I have lost count of the conversations I have had with Vladimir Putin since December,” Macron said. They amounted to 100 hours’ worth, he added, which were “at the request of” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Macron has consistently sought to engage directly with Putin and has repeatedly called for a ceasefire in the conflict, including on an 80-minute phone call at the end of last month with the Russian leader and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz.
That has led to periodic accusations that the French leader wants Ukraine to make concessions to secure a peace agreement, although the Élysée Palace says any peace agreement must be negotiated between Putin and Zelenskiy, showing “due respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
None of the discussions, however, appear to have borne fruit. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed the 100-day mark on Friday, with little sign of the war ending amid heavy fighting in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk.
Macron said he believed Putin had “isolated himself” and did not know what to do next. “Isolating oneself is one thing, but being able to get out of it is a difficult path,” the French president added.
Elsewhere, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said overnight he had spoken to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, in his efforts to deal with Ankara’s resistance to Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance.
Stoltenberg said he had “a constructive phone call” with Erdoğan and welcomed Turkey’s efforts to reach a maritime agreement between Russia and Ukraine to allow for the resumption of food exports from Ukraine’s blockaded ports.
Turkey is threatening to block the accession of Finland and Sweden, who have sought to join Nato in the aftermath of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, accusing the two countries of supporting Kurdish figures Ankara says are terrorists.
Erdoğan’s office said the president had emphasised that Sweden and Finland should “make it clear that they have stopped supporting terrorism”, lift defence export restrictions placed on Turkey, and be “ready to show alliance solidarity”.
The two Nordic countries had imposed curbs after Turkey launched a military operation to take control of areas in Syria previously held by the country’s Kurdish minority. Stoltenberg tweeted late on Friday that he discussed with Marin “the need to address Turkey’s concerns and move forward” to ensure the Finnish and Swedish membership applications were approved.