PARIS (Reuters) -France’s foreign minister said on Friday that Russia was trying to bypass the European Union by holding talks directly with the United States over Ukraine.
Talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats will begin in Geneva on Monday after weeks of tensions over Russian troop deployments near its border with neighbouring Ukraine, with envoys on each side trying to avert a crisis.
“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin wants to bypass the European Union… he wants to put dents in the EU cohesion, which is solidifying”, Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV and RMC Radio.
“You can’t envisage EU security without the Europeans.” France has just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU.
French President Emmanuel Macron later told a news conference that he was planning to have discussions with Putin soon, to discuss topics including Ukraine – but he gave no details and did not say when that could take place.
Russia has moved nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine. It says it is not preparing for an invasion but wants to see the West back off from its support for Ukraine’s government and has demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards.
“Putin has proposed to discuss with NATO to sort of return to the zones of influence from the past…which would mean Russia restore the spirit of Yalta,” Le Drian said referring to the conference between World War Two Allied powers in February 1945 that gave the Soviet Union control over its eastern European neighbours.
“This is not our point of view, but we have to accept the discussion.”
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West. Kyiv wants the territory back.
Le Drian said any further military incursion into Ukraine by Russia would bring “serious strategic consequences”, with one option being a review of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
He said that despite Putin’s assurances that he was beginning to withdraw troops from the region, Paris had yet to see that happen.
Senior French and German diplomats met with Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday as part of efforts to revive peace talks over eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by John Irish, Benoit Van Overstraeten and Sudip Kar-GuptaEditing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)