The crisis in Ukraine is evolving with reports coming in this morning of bombings over the capital Kyiv, after Russia launched a wide-scale invasion early yesterday (February 24).
Here, we provide five updates of how France is reacting.
Macron to meet with two former presidents this morning
French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with his two predecessors this morning to discuss the invasion.
He will meet with François Hollande, president between 2012 - 2017, at 11:00 and then with Nicolas Sarkozy, president between 2007 - 2012, at 12:00. Mr Sarkozy is currently serving a one-year prison sentence at home with an electronic tag, after being found guilty of illegally financing his 2012 presidential campaign.
Mr Macron will this evening at 20:00 travel to Brussels to oversee a European Council meeting to discuss new sanctions against Russia.
Mr Macron spoke yesterday evening about the situation in Ukraine, saying, “the war is here, on our soil”.
He called for the EU to stand up against aggression, and said that the recent events in Ukraine have made it clear that the EU must be able to stand independently, in terms of energy, security and technological security.
“In these tragic times, Europe has no choice but to become a power,” he said.
La guerre est là, sur notre sol. Dans les temps tragiques que nous vivons, l'Europe n'a d'autre choix que de devenir une puissance. pic.twitter.com/EQllCneROo— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) February 25, 2022
In an earlier speech yesterday, President Macron stood in front a Ukrainian flag, placed next to the usual French and EU flags. This is considered a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Ukraine. It is unusual for French presidents to place foreign flags in the background while addressing the nation.
Macron promises military and financial aid to Ukraine
Mr Macron said yesterday that in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, France (as a member of the EU) had decided to impose sanctions on individuals, the financial, transport and export sectors, and on visas.
He said that Belarus would be targeted too, as an accomplice to Russia.
He also said that Ukraine would be given “an unprecedented” €1.2billion in economic aid, as well as military equipment.
Finally, he said that he would reinforce France’s military presence in Estonia, a Baltic country in the northeast of the European Union, bordering Russia.
He said that he would also “accelerate deployment” in Romania, an EU country bordering Ukraine.
The EU stopped short of cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global interbank payments system.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has expressed his anger at the EU’s failure to take this step.
Demonstrations in Paris and beyond
Several hundred people gathered in Paris yesterday in front of the Russian embassy to protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Among the demonstrators were two presidential candidates, Yannick Jadot of the Green party and left-wing candidate Christiane Taubira.
Solidarité avec l'Ukraine, solidarité avec le peuple ukrainien. pic.twitter.com/r1l8bVoHHd— Christiane Taubira (@ChTaubira) February 24, 2022
Teresa Voytanovska, a 42-year-old Franco-Ukrainian, told Franceinfo that she attended the demonstration “to help the citizens of Ukraine, those who are still there”.
Further demonstrations are expected today around France today, but also in other European capitals such as Berlin, Prague, Warsaw and even in parts of Russia.
La nuit est tombée sur la place de la République à #Paris et des centaines de personnes restent mobilisées en soutien aux Urkrainiens. Drapeaux du pays à la main, chants, applaudissements nourris et prises de paroles s'enchaînent... #Urkraine #StandWithUkraine @franceinfoplus pic.twitter.com/89Qh0gbuZB— Antoine Comte (@AntoineCOMTE) February 24, 2022
How many Ukrainians live in France?
France’s statistics agency INSEE states that as of 2017 (latest statistics available), 24,700 citizens of France were born in Ukraine.
However, a spokesperson for a Ukrainian cultural association in France told The Connexion that he believes there to be several million Ukrainians in France, although this depends on the definition. Some could be second- or third-generation immigrants, while others may have mixed parentage or only be in the country for a short period of time.
Several thousand Ukrainians have crossed into neighbouring countries following Russia's invasion, the UN refugee agency reported yesterday. It estimates around 100,000 people in the country have fled their homes or been uprooted by the conflict.
Lyon mayor ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees
Demonstrations were not limited to Paris, and several hundred people also turned out in Lyon, including the city’s mayor Grégory Doucet.
“What is taking place now is truly abominable,” he said, expressing his solidarity towards Ukraine.
“From Lyon, we call for the strongest reaction from Europe.
“As a city, we will do our part in supporting the Ukrainian people. We will be ready to welcome refugees if there are any.”
As a city, we will do our part in the concrete solidarity we can show to the Ukrainian people. We will be ready to welcome refugees if there are any.
Russian cyberattacks against Western countries ‘a concern’
It is possible that Russia will hit Western countries that have supported sanctions against it, such as France, with cyberattacks, Gerôme Billois, a French cybersecurity expert, has told Franceinfo.
He said the targets are usually government or media organisations.
“Currently, there are some spillover effects of these cyberattacks in countries like Latvia and Slovakia, but it seems that the victims are directly linked to the targeted Ukrainian structures,” he said.
“We can hypothesise that they are collateral victims, linked to the interconnection of certain systems.
He said, though, that Russia is fully capable of retaliating to Western sanctions with cyber attacks and that it is a concern.
“Hackers rarely attack openly, but previous cases have often involved Russian intelligence services, directly or indirectly.”
He added that France has had regulations in place since 2014 to anticipate and deal with cyberattacks, but that in emergency situations it is necessary to verify that the systems are all working as they should.
‘It is full-on war’
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this morning on radio station France Inter described the situation in Ukraine as “full-on war”.
“President Putin has chosen war, he has chosen to wipe Ukraine off the map,” he said.
“The Dombas affair was only a pretext, what Putin wants is the submission of Ukraine.”
For independent news in English about the Ukraine situation, see the Kyiv Independent.