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Russia’s lack of political will is the problem for Donbas resolution – French Ambassador to Ukraine

Russia’s lack of political will is the problem for Donbas resolution – French Ambassador to Ukraine
The Kyiv Not Kiev project has interviewed the Ambassador of France to Ukraine, Mr. Etienne de Poncins. Topics discussed included perks of working in Kyiv, favorite Ukrainian souvenirs, expectations from France-Ukraine cooperation, and many critical political topics like the Normandy format, Nord Stream 2, and a lot more.

On the quality of life in Kyiv

Mr. Etienne de Poncins came to Kyiv as an Ambassador in 2019. So, at the moment of the interview, he’s been living here for two years. Keeping in mind well-known facts about unbelievably beautiful cities in France, we couldn’t help but ask Mr. Ambassador – what was his first impression of our capital and what does he think as the time has passed.

“Going through Maidan from the office to the residence by foot is always a great pleasure. I love this city. It’s vivid, has a lot of joy, lot of difficulties but it’s a passionate city,” stated Mr. Ambassador.

French cuisine is known worldwide and is considered one of the best. Every French restaurant is like a treasure. France gave the world such concepts as the “Michelin star” and the “Michelin Red Guide.” We’ve always known for sure that Kyiv is also rich in excellent French restaurants, and Mr. Ambassador agrees with us. He even named few favorites, he likes to go to: Citronelle, Tres Francais, Frenchie, La Fabrique.

“I have the same quality of life here in Kyiv, meaning the restaurants as I have in Paris. This is really a great place to live.”

On souvenirs from Ukraine

Vyshyvanka March in Kyiv, May 2016 (Image:
Vyshyvanka March in Kyiv, May 2016 (Image:

We also talked with Mr. Etienne de Poncins about things that vividly represent Ukraine which he could bring as a souvenir to his relatives in France. “The vyshyvanka” was the answer. And we couldn’t agree more. Mr. Ambassador even has about 6 or 8 of them.

Mr. Ambassador emphasized that he picked this shirt as a souvenir not only because of its beauty. In a way, it represents similar cultures and histories of the two nations. According to him, vyshyvanka is typically Ukraine’s symbol. It’s a symbol of the resilience of our country through the ages. And it’s the symbol of our closeness to nature.

“You were peasants as we were peasants in France. So, there is an addition to the similarities between the French and Ukrainian people. Vyshyvanka is typically Ukrainian. I would definitely bring these beautiful shirts,” said the Ambassador.

Shifting to the topic of similarities between French and Ukrainian nations, the Ambassador highlighted other aspects where we share views and experience: agriculture, nuclear energy production, and respect to our history.

Both Ukraine and France give immense importance to culture, history, and memory. Mr. Ambassador stated that he’s impressed by how Ukrainians, having gotten through difficult times and tragedies, manage to remember and remind everyone of their past.

“I think of the Holodomor, for example, I think of the crimes of the communist time. You have this capacity, as we have in France, to continue to be connected with the past and overcome the past for the future.”

On the peak in bilateral relations

“From my perspective, the peak [in French-Ukrainian relations] has not yet arrived,” stated Mr. Ambassador. However, the Embassy continues to work for it. The peak will be when President Macron comes to Ukraine.

“He [Emmanuel Macron] has promised to President Zelenskyy that he wants and sincerely would like to come, and he’s working on it. So far, he has not yet found the right time to come. So, we are preparing this peak,” stressed Mr. Ambassador.

Earlier, official Kyiv expected Mr. Macron’s visit in the first half of 2021. However, the pandemic and other issues were constantly delaying his arrival. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba last announced Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Ukraine at his joint briefing in late August 2021 with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. According to him, the visit of the President of France will be symbolic and significant for our bilateral relations.

Now France is preparing for the upcoming presidential elections, so it will be challenging to schedule President Macron’s arrival. According to Mr. Ambassador, even though we haven’t witnessed the French President visiting Kyiv, the relations and connections between our countries are not getting weaker. On the contrary, personal relationships between President Macron and President Zelenskyy are excellent. They are friends.

“Even when in the diplomatic environment, it’s not usual to say friends, but I sincerely think they are. They call each other regularly, have long conversations. They are of the same age. The two first ladies are also in very good relationships and connections,” stated Mr. Ambassador.

On France taking on the presidency in the EU

In the first semester of 2022, France will lead the talks in the EU. Before revealing its priorities, the French government announced that it would like to build its presidency around the concepts of “Recovery, Strength and a Sense of Belonging.”

We asked Mr. Ambassador whether the EU will consider a new approach to adding new members to the Eastern Partnership, particularly – the Associated Trio (Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia). According to the Ambassador, there are many issues to discuss in the EU, and he’s not sure that this question will be at the core of the French presidency because it is not the proper timing in Europe.

“There is no EU-Ukraine summit to prepare. So, it will not be at the top of the agenda for this obvious reason,” he stated.

He emphasized, however, that France is devoted to the Eastern partnership. It wants this partnership to be developed. The EU is interested in protecting its eastern borders. So, it will welcome all the initiatives from the Associated Trio with great attention.

On the Normandy format

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Vladimir Putin during Paris summit of the Normandy Four (December 10, 2019). Image courtesy:

Mr. Ambassador is strongly convinced that the conflict in the east of Ukraine is not a frozen one. It is taking the lives of young women and men, Ukrainian soldiers, almost every day. France is horrified that this conflict has been going on for about seven years.

In Ukraine, there are opinions that the Normandy format is not enough to end the war in Donbas. But Mr. Etienne de Poncins believes that this is the only existing diplomatic format working. The problem is not in the format itself. It’s not like we will change the format and get the solution. There will be a solution if there is a change of mind in Moscow.

“My President will devote all his efforts and esteem to try to find a solution and to come to a real breakthrough. At the moment, unfortunately, the situation is blocked, and it’s blocked mostly following the attitude of Moscow. It’s clear.”

In addition, France doesn’t seem to mind the US inclusion into the format. However, Mr. Ambassador highlights that it will not bring any change as long as there is no change in Russia’s negotiation approach.

“If there are other ideas, bringing new energy, bringing the US – why not? But the problem is not the format. The problem is the lack of political will, particularly from the Russian side. We have very good relations [with the US], we are in contact daily with our American friends, and we exchange information. If they can help us – why not? We are absolutely ready.”

As the format is still a place for discussion, constant contact, and dialogue, Mr. Ambassador doesn’t see any possibility of bringing up something else.

On nuclear energy

Mr. Etienne de Poncins gives Ukraine credit for developing its own capacity, namely nuclear energy.

France, in the 1970s, has started developing quite an extensive spectrum of nuclear energy. And nowadays it produces 70% of its electricity through nuclear power plants. At the same time, Ukraine makes 50%. Mr. Ambassador believes that both countries were right going in that direction.

“We are ready to develop and to reinforce the cooperation in that field, to reinforce your own energy security. We are two countries that count on nuclear energy, assure our energy security, and it’s also an area for cooperation in the present and future,” highlighted Mr. Ambassador.

Tetiana Gaiduk is Creative Services Director at TRUMAN Agency, Co-founder and co-host at KYIV NOT KIEV

Victoria Dubiv is a Project Manager at TRUMAN Agency, Editor of KYIV NOT KIEV



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