Just four days before Russian forces attacked Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron got into a heated phone argument, with the Russian strongman claiming that Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky was lying to the French president, according to a bomb leak.
Details of the secret exchange between the two leaders were revealed on February 20 in a new documentary about Macron’s handling of the ongoing conflict, titled “President, Europe and War,” which premiered last week on the channel. France 2.
As Russia was on course to muster its forces in preparation for an all-out invasion in late February, Macron called his Russian counterpart to offer his views on the escalating situation and discuss “useful measures” to defuse it.
And Putin quickly turned the conversation to our “dear colleague Mr. Zelensky,” accusing the Ukrainian president of “lying” to Macron about his intention to implement the Minsk Accords, which sought to end the war in the Donbass region.
Putin then objected to Zelensky’s apparent refusal to negotiate with pro-Kremlin Ukrainian separatists, which infuriated the French president and prompted him to exclaim with audible disappointment: “I don’t know where your lawyer learned the law from!”
Then he added, “I don’t know who is a lawyer who will be able to tell you that in a sovereign country the texts of laws are proposed by separatist groups and not by democratically elected authorities.”
Putin hit back at his French counterpart, arguing that Zelensky’s government was not democratically elected.
“They came to power in a bloody coup, with murders, arson and burning alive,” Putin told Macron.
Zelensky, a former comedian, was elected with a landslide victory in 2019 with more than 73% of the vote.
As the verbal feud intensified, Macron told Putin he “doesn’t care about the separatists’ proposals” because they are outside the law.
After further quarrels, the French leader tried to bring the conversation back to the diplomatic track and suggested a meeting of all parties to the conflict. Putin also promised to call Zelensky to “calm everyone down”, but urged the Russian president to lower the temperature at the Ukrainian border.
“There was a lot of bombing yesterday,” Macron noted. “If we want to give dialogue a chance, we have to calm things down in the region.”
Putin said his forces would conclude their military exercises that night, but warned that Russia would “certainly leave a military presence on the border until the situation in Donbas calms down.”
Macron urged Putin not to “succumb to provocations of any kind” and pressured him to agree to a face-to-face confrontation with President Biden in Geneva in the coming days, but the Russian leader avoided setting a specific date, concealing his brush-off with compliments.
Then Putin casually ended the call by telling Macron: “To be honest with you, I wanted to play ice hockey because I’m talking to you here from the gym before the start of physical exercises.”
Despite his assurances to Macron that he agreed “in principle” to meet with Biden in order to find a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis, the next day Putin recognized the breakaway Ukrainian People’s Republic of Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republic.
And three days later, Russian forces launched a large-scale invasion of UkraineArtillery fire rained down on cities and towns, including Kyiv.
During a visit to Vietnam on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov targeted France for publishing the contents of the top-secret conversation.
“In principle, we are leading the negotiations in such a way that we are never shy about it, if you wish,” the foreign minister said. “We always say what we think and are ready to answer our words and explain our position. I think that diplomatic ethics, of course, do not allow such a one-sided leak of the record.”
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