‘Do you want France to fight with Russia?’ Putin asks

Russian president Vladimir Putin said Monday in Moscow that leaving Nato membership open to Ukraine risked war in Europe, in a message addressed to the French people and French president Emmanuel Macron.

Ukraine and Nato “believed” that Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, was Ukrainian, Putin noted.

And if Ukraine joined Nato, then Nato would be obliged to reconquer Crimea under its Article V mutual defence clause, Putin told French media after meeting Macron in Moscow.

“Imagine that Ukraine is a member of Nato … This means that there will be a military confrontation between Russia and Nato,” Putin said.

“Do you want to fight with Russia?. You ask your readers, viewers, users of Internet resources: ‘Do you want France to fight with Russia?’. But that’s the way it will be,” he added.

Meanwhile on Monday, in another sign tensions could be intensifying, pro-Russian fighters in Russia-occupied east Ukraine called for the Russian army to send reinforcements.

The developments cast doubts over Macron’s mission to make Europe’s voice count for more amid the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War.

Earlier Monday, Putin and Macron talked for six hours about Russia’s security demands in Europe.

Russia has called on Nato to stop taking in new members and for the US to pull out troops from existing ones, such as Poland and the Baltic states. Russia made the demands after building up what appears to be a large invasion force.

Macron suggested that French leadership was vital in efforts to diffuse the crisis.

“This is France’s vocation … our role is to carry the voice of the European Union and take into account various difficult circumstances in dealing with neighbours such as Russia,” Macron said after meeting Putin.

“We have different views, we need to understand and accept this,” Macron said of Putin.

The French leader said Nato could not close its doors to potential new members, but mentioned Switzerland and Finland as being free to join Nato as examples rather than directly addressing the question of Ukraine’s membership.

“We are ready to work on security guarantees, to build a new order of security and stability in Europe,” Macron noted.

Macron will also visit Kyiv on Tuesday, while the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, will shortly travel to Moscow in a flurry of European diplomacy on the crisis, which included a visit by the Hungarian prime minister to Moscow and phonecalls between the Russian, German, Italian, and British leaders.

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