Ukraine peace deal cannot reward Russia the aggressor, cautions French foreign minister

Ukraine peace deal cannot reward Russia the aggressor, cautions French foreign minister
French Minister of Foreign Affairs and Europe Catherine Colonna. (Photo: Supplied)

Freezing the conflict is not an option, as it would reward the aggressor, Russia, says Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister.

A peace deal in Ukraine that simply recognised the state of affairs on the ground and was not based on international law would be unsustainable, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Europe, Catherine Colonna, cautioned, as President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders returned from their peace mission to Russia and Ukraine.

On the eve of a visit to South Africa, Colonna told Daily Maverick in an email interview that such a peace “would mean accepting the right of the strongest and it would be an illusion, because new conflicts would result from it. Allowing one aggression to be rewarded would risk opening the way to other aggressions, there or elsewhere”.

This was the same message the African leaders heard very clearly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday. He dismissed their appeal for “de-escalation” of the conflict while Russian troops remained on Ukrainian soil.

Colonna is arriving in South Africa on Monday to meet her South African counterpart Naledi Pandor for discussions on a wide range of topics, including Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Colonna recalled that she had met her “friend” Pandor in Paris last month to discuss the African peace mission and had told her that “any effort in favour of a just and lasting peace, which respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, is welcome. 

“You may wonder why we attach so much importance to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine: it is because there is an aggressor country, Russia, and an attacked state, Ukraine, which exercises its right to self-defence under the United Nations Charter.”

Daily Maverick asked her how France felt about the role in the African peace effort of French citizen Jean-Yves Ollivier and his Brazzaville Foundation, which initiated the mission. Colonna brushed him aside, replying “what makes this initiative important to us is that it is led by South Africa together with other African partners”.

We asked her how France viewed South Africa’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine war in the light of the considerable criticism of Pretoria by many Western capitals for abandoning its professed non-aligned position and aligning itself ever closer to Russia. Last week senior US Congressional leaders asked President Joe Biden to shift this year’s annual forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) away from South Africa because of its perceived pro-Russia position. 

South Africa is a trusted partner for France,” Colonna replied, adding that French President Emmanuel Macron talked very regularly with Ramaphosa and she worked very closely with Pandor on all major international challenges. 

“This includes of course the Russian aggression in Ukraine. On this subject, we exchange positions and see how our countries can provide solutions.

“We also share the same commitment to the defence of multilateralism and international law, which are important issues in the war in Ukraine, as well as to the reform of global governance, where we support a strengthening of the role of African countries.”

She added that she and Pandor would discuss other topics of cooperation, including climate change, global health and youth, sport and education links between the two countries.

“President Ramaphosa’s visit to Paris in a few days for the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact is testimony to this. We act together for the common good.”

The summit, which over 40 heads of state and government are expected to attend, will consider how to reform global finance to ensure that the goals of tackling climate change are met without impairing the fight against poverty.

That is also, in essence, the aim of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JET-P) which France, Germany, the UK, US and EU have established with South Africa. They are providing South Africa with $8.5-billion, of which €1-billion is coming from France, to help finance its move away from its heavy dependence on coal-fired power stations towards renewables, while ensuring coal workers and communities do not suffer.

“Climate change is a source of major concern for citizens of our two countries, and a priority for our foreign policy. We are happy to be partners of the JET-P in which we are going to invest one billion euros,” Colonna said.

“I insist on the adjective ‘just’ to describe the energy transition. An essential point for us is indeed that populations and territories economically dependent on coal production can diversify their activities. This transition can only succeed if it is socially just.” 

Colonna said France’s efforts in this regard went well beyond the JET-P with South Africa, noting that the aim of the summit for a New Global Financial Pact would be “to better meet the financing needs of the countries which need it most, in particular for their ecological transition. No country should have to choose between reducing poverty and protecting the planet,” she said.

Plans for JET-Ps with other countries are expected to be on the agenda of the summit.

Daily Maverick asked Colonna how France was adjusting to the setbacks it had recently experienced in African countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas have seized power and expelled French troops who were helping those countries fight violent Islamist extremists. 

“President Macron has initiated a profound reform of our relations with countries on the African continent,” Colonna replied. “This started with his speech to students in Ouagadougou in 2017, and was further expanded during the Montpellier summit in 2021, which was attended by many actors from civil society, artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals, and in particular many young South Africans. 

“We want to build a new relationship, based on partnership and responsibility, in which we deal with our common challenges together, while also assuming our national interests. We are strengthening our cooperation in innovation, culture, entrepreneurship, gender equality and the fight against climate change, where we have so much to do together. We can rely on the very intense human ties we have with many African countries.

“As for security, which is naturally part of our common concerns, we have had to intervene strongly in the fight against terrorism and in support of initiatives on regional crises. We only carry out these actions at the request of the governments of the countries concerned, within an international framework in accordance with United Nations resolutions, and in cooperation with regional organisations, in particular the African Union. 

“We are proud to be a reliable partner of African countries in this field and to see an increased commitment from all our partners in the European Union. Contrary to what one may sometimes read, I assure you that our relations with the vast majority of the 54 African countries are good.”

Colonna said that while in South Africa she would meet the philosopher Achille Mbembe who inspired the creation of the Innovation Foundation for Democracy at Wits University last year with support from France. The foundation supports research and citizen initiatives around democracy in Africa, France and Europe more broadly.  

“Democracy is a universal good to which France, Europe and Africa are equally attached,” Colonna said. “Citizens must be able to choose their future and, for this, there are principles to follow, which apply to all countries in the world: a pluralist electoral debate in accordance with the law, a free and fair vote and respect for the choice of voters. Africans and Europeans alike have the same democratic demands.” DM


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