Extensive excerpt from Isabelle Laserre’s interview with Valery Giscard d’Estaing, President of France, 1974-1981.
March 23, 2015
Translated from French by Tom Winter
Isabelle Lasserre: How do you view the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine by Russia?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: Concerning the “return” of Crimea to Russia, very frankly, I judge it in conformity with history. I’ve re-read books describing Russian history of the 18th century. Crimea was conquered in the reign of Catherine II, with the predominant lead of prince Potemkin, when Russia went south toward Turkey with the idea of reconquering Constantinople. The conquest of Crimea was rather harsh, but it was not at the detriment of Ukraine, which did not exist, but at the expense of a local sovereign who depended on Turkey. Since then, it has not been populated by anyone but Russians. When Nikita Khrushchev wanted to increase the weight of the Soviet Union in the UN, which was then aborning, he invented Ukraine and Bielorussia to give two more votes to the Soviet Union, and he gave Ukraine authority over Crimea that it had never had before. At the time, already, I thought this dependance was artificial, and that it would not last. The recent events were predictable. Further, the return of Crimea to Russia has been largely approved by the population. It is only since the problems extended to the east of Ukraine that one gets worried.
Isabelle Lasserre: Numerous analysts and responsible politicians plead for a greater understanding regarding Vladimir Putin. Seeing that you’ve always been a supporter of detente vis-a-vis Moscow, during the Cold War as well as today, do you accept that one can thus violate international law and destabilize a country?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: The conventional rules adopted at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 set the principle of respect for sovereignty and frontiers; in virtue of this principle, some suppose that Ukraine must absolutely keep the totality of territory that was theirs at the moment of Ukraine’s independence in 1991. But let us not forget that the decomposition of the USSR happened in a stampede and provoked a crumbling of borders! But today, the question of Crimea ought be left aside. The matter of the east of Ukraine, though, is more difficult. Do not forget that Ukraine was long Russian; Kiev was the capital of Russia. Why, when I was finance minister, I went to the Soviet Union at the request of general De Gaulle, and Khrushchev received me in Kiev!
To see the matter clearly, you have to ask what really happened a year ago in the Ukrainian capital. What role did the CIA play in the Maidan revolution? What is the meaning of the systematic anti-Russian policy conducted by Barack Obama? Why did the US want to advance their pawns in Ukraine? Is there a potent Ukrainian lobby in the US? Do the Americans want to compensate for their impotence in the Middle East by conducting a harder policy against Russia on the European continent?
Isabelle Lasserre: Do you really think that the US is responsible for the Ukrainian crisis? Wasn’t it rather the corruption of the team in power that provoked the Ukrainians?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: One has to consider both elements. It is undeniable that the Ukrainian regime was intolerably corrupt. Which explains, at least in part, that president Yanukovich was obliged to leave. But the situation remained confused, and you must recognize that the Ukrainian transition scarcely has any democratic aspect. It’s the clans run by the tycoons who are leading the game. As for the US, they probably supported and encouraged the insurrectional movement. And then, following up, they led the policy of sanctions regarding Russia, a policy counter to international law. Who can arrogate to himself the right to, in effect, draw up a list of citizens to whom you apply personal sanctions without even interrogating them, without their having the opportunity to defend themselves, without even having a lawyer? This business amounts to a worrisome precedent. As for the economic sanctions that address not persons, but the Russian state, how to overlook that it harms both protagonists, the West as well as Russia — in altering their trade? This mounting of tensions is going to keep on damaging the Russian economy. And by the way, what is the name of the expert who forecast and announced the fall in the price of oil? No expert anticipated this event! In any case, today the Russian economy is fragile on account of the speculation against the ruble, which is at its lowest rate against the dollar since 1998. Did the Americans have an interest in the fall of the Russian economy? But for Europe, the Russians are partners and neighbors. In the present international disarray, facing the flaring up of violence in the Middle East, in the face of the uncertainties provoked by the US midterm elections, it would be irresponsible to hope for the collapse of the Russian economy.
Isabelle Lasserre: What solution would you propose to try to resolve the crisis?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: Ukraine as it is is in no shape to function democratically. Therefore, it must reorganize itself. I hope the diplomacy of France will take Europe’s leadership in the search for a political solution in Ukraine. This solution seems to be that of a multi-ethnic confederation, on the model of Switzerland and its cantons, with one part russophone, one part Polish, and one part intermediary — a system at once federal and confederal, under the aegis of the Europeans and supported by the UN.
Isabelle Lasserre: In such a scenario, what’s to become of Crimea? Win some, lose some?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: I don’t like that expression. But Crimea was conquered, I repeat, when it was ruled under Turkish, not Ukrainian sovereignty, and it’s where the Allies came to hold conference at Yalta, intending it to stay Russian.
Isabelle Lasserre: If you were in power, what would you say to Vladimir Putin to make him listen to reason?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: Vladimir Putin’s crisis management has not been judicious. The Russian president is pursuing a dream: to re-establish the influence of the old ‘“Soviet Union. But this dream cannot be realized, because part of the Soviet Union was built by force. But when the force is not what it was, these methods are not “on”. Poland and the baltic countries are not at risk. Russia is not going to launch any such adventure. But in those spots which are in political disorder, it is less evident. It would be necessary to recommend to Vladimir Putin not to play with fire, and to try to find, with him, reasonable solutions. What is for sure is that Ukraine will not get in to the European system; it’s impossible! Ukraine has neither the necessary economic maturity nor the practical politics. Her place is in between two spaces, Russia and the European Union, with which she must maintain normal relationships. As for the admission of Ukraine into NATO, not in question, and France has reason to oppose it! For now, you want my forecast? Here it is: Ukraine is at risk of financial collapse. She will ask for help. Who will give it? No doubt, the IMF, since the EU lacks the machinery to do so.
Isabelle Lasserre: On the Maidan Plaza, several Ukrainians died defending European values and brandishing the EU flag. Is it possible to disappoint the enthusiasm of these people who look to us with such confidence?
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: The European aspirations of Kiev were a dream. Since they had no aspirations, they had to dream of something. But lets be realistic: the Hungarians, who are in Europe, don’t want it any more, and the Union, after seven years, has not satisfactorily integrated Bulgaria and Rumania. For those who feel abandoned, the EU is a temptation. It’s a zone at peace. But that does not justify membership. As a former part of Russia, Ukraine cannot be in the European Union.
It is easy to see why Le Figaro did not publish this interview, even though the interviewer is foreign affairs editor of Le Fig: though her questions presuppose Le Fig’s doctrine, and would hardly be different if Victoria Nuland were asking them, the answers of the former French president, with one exception, are quite contrary to the doctrinaire nature of the questions. Note, for instance, the question re breach of international law, which, like all the western media, ignores the finding of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence)