The last week of diplomatic activities proved the strength and unity of Europe against the background of Russian ultimatums. The Kremlin did not get what it wanted. This is not surprising, given the illegitimate and staggering nature of Russia’s demands. Now the question is what will happen next. I strongly believe that the only way for Russia to prove that it does not really plan a new attack on Ukraine is to continue its discussion within the existing formats.

Russia’s actions will be a test of France’s “demanding dialogue” strategy. Moscow has never had a plausible reason to amass more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine while fueling militant rhetoric. Ukraine has not planned and is not planning any offensive military operation in Donbas. On the contrary, together with France and Germany as mediators, we spent the whole of 2021 in search of political and diplomatic solutions based on the Minsk agreements.

The new stage of Vladimir Putin’s pressure is directed not only against Ukraine, which he wants to regain control of, inter alia by demanding a veto on our Euro-Atlantic path. The President of Russia seeks first of all to humiliate the West and establish his sphere of influence in Europe, acting behind the backs of Europeans, including the French.

,Te current security crisis was very well orchestrated and projected by Vladimir Putin. Unprecedented military build-up near the Ukrainian border in the spring of 2021, completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, publication of an insulting and false work about Ukrainians and Russians as “one nation,” artificial aggravation of the energy crisis in Europe, use of migrants as weapons on Belarus’ border, political intervention in the Balkans, and, finally, a new wave of a build-up of troops near the border with Ukraine in late 2021. These actions are also accompanied by disinformation operations and cyberattacks.

All of these are not isolated events but elements of Russia’s broader strategy to reduce Europe’s role and undermine its security, stability, and peace. Countering this intimidation requires strong leadership. France can assume such a role during its presidency of the Council of the European Union.

I am well aware that part of the French intellectual elite still has a special affection for Russia. Some are fascinated by Russian culture, from Tolstoy to the Bolshoi Theatre. Others are skeptical about the United States and see relations with Russia as an alternative. Others suggest a geopolitical game: to work more closely with Russia to prevent Russia’s rapprochement with China. I do not want to disappoint anyone, but today’s Russia has little in common with Russian ballet or literature, and we do not see any ballerinas or poets near the Ukrainian border today. Russia does not play a significant role in the confrontation between the United States and China.

If European diplomacy fails to prevent a new Russian attack on Ukraine, the entire security order on the continent will be violated. Why? Because Russia‘s appetite in Europe will only grow. It is time to abandon geopolitical chimeras, as well as romanticised ideas about Russia, to make a demanding dialogue really demanding, and to strengthen the policy of real deterrence. After all, it is not just a matter of extinguishing current tensions through diplomatic means, but also of strengthening Europe’s security in the long run.

Vladimir Putin is an opportunist. I am convinced that France’s shift to a tougher policy towards Moscow can fundamentally change the Kremlin’s plans. At this crucial time, Europe must stand its principles firmly. Today, more than ever, the security of Ukraine is the security of Europe.

Ukraine lauds the tireless efforts by President of France Emmanuel Macron to bring Vladimir Putin back to the Normandy format negotiating table. Any discussion on strengthening European security must begin with a discussion on resolving the international armed conflict in Donbas and the de-occupation of Crimea. Today, with Russian weapons aimed at Ukraine and Europe, it is important to redouble our diplomatic efforts and make strong and principled decisions.

Op-ed by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba for Le Figaro newspaper (France)

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