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14 December, 2013

French Diplomacy: Miseries Without Splendor

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has obviously not been to the Maidan in Kyiv – nor is he planning on a visit, unlike German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle or the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Both have traveled to Ukraine for meetings and made subsequent declarations.

France is taking it slow. When asked about France’s official stance on the use of force against peaceful protesters at night of December 10, the spokesman of the French Foreign Ministry replied obscurely: “Please, see our declaration made in the morning today.” I went to the Declarations section of the Foreign Ministry’s website to find nothing on Ukraine. There was a post on Syria, Central African Republic and new labour market rules from Brussels. And not a word on Kyiv.

Then, a diplomat told us off-record that the declaration mentioned by the Ministry spokesman was a post on the telephone conversation of Laurent Fabius and Vitaliy Klitschko. “Mssrs. Fabius and Klitschko discussed a possibility of peaceful solution in Ukraine”, “Mr. Fabius called on everyone to stay restrained, refrain from the use of violence and enter into a dialogue”, and “the Minister reminded of the importance of progress of real reforms in Ukraine for France” the declaration said. 

Good God, who wouldn’t want that here? But how can one negotiate with someone who’s hiding behind the fence in Mezhyhiria, delegating Berkut and Internal Forces as his “spokespeople” instead? How can one “refrain from the use of force” when peaceful protests are pulled out of the crowd with huge iron hooks one by one to be dragged into police buses and beaten up until the officers feel exhausted? It’s hard to tell which planet Mr. Fabius lives at but his state and Ukraine seem to be worlds apart.

They are all silent – the French Foreign Ministry, the government, MPs and senators. “Have they really used force in Kyiv? France Culture just said this morning that the government in Kyiv just cleaned up barricades in line with a court verdict, but there was no brutality,” some say. 

READ ALSO: Ukrainian leaders are caught into their own trap

I, too, listened to that delusionary report on France Culture while scrolling through bloody reports by my Ukrainian colleagues from the night-time Maidan. As the feeling of dissonance and rage mounted, I wanted to ask my French colleague: what sources did he use for that morning show?

A brief search revealed his sources. The reporter used Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency that has a French-language newsline and covers Ukraine – from the Russian standpoint obviously. A little later, France Info and RFI went on air from in front of the Kyiv Mayor Office. “It is today that our eyes and throats hurt from tear gas and protesters who took over the Kyiv City State Administration building are pouring ice-cold water on the police,”  a female reporter said as Kyiv riot roared at the background. I wonder which radio station Mr. Fabius prefers. Is it France Info or France Culture?

The French often recall the power of their diplomacy in the 19th century and how the whole world negotiated in French. But sometimes I get the impression that those glorious times exist in some parallel worlds or in the minds of French politicians only. “Our minister has invited Vitaliy Klitschko to visit, for the second time already, but he cancelled his visit,” my colleague from a TV channel complained. Invitation to visit is nice. But it just happened so that Mr. Klitschko has some urgent stuff to do at Maidan right now. So, why doesn’t Mr. Fabius get on a plane for a three-hour flight and come to Kyiv? Maybe that would help him to find the right words – for a declaration and answers for journalists? Because there are plenty of questions for him.

So far, though, France has not expressed its official stance, so the Foreign Ministry has nothing to say to journalists. Hey, people! Jean-Marc Ayrault, Laurent Fabius, Francois Hollande? Have you gone to Gazprom for a job interview yet? Rumour has it, German ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is getting a good bonus to his pension from the Russian gas giant.

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