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‘Cold War 2.0 with Russia and China’ - former French ambassador to US

Jean-David Levitte speaks to The Connexion’s Théophile Larcher about what lies ahead for the Western world following the war in Ukraine

Jean-David Levitte spoke to The Connexion’s Théophile Larcher before a conference held by the Monaco Méditerranée Foundation in Monaco, on June 9 Pic: Théophile Larcher

As a former French ambassador to the US (2002 - 2007) and so-called ‘sherpa’ of presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, Jean-David Levitte’s analysis of the world situation continues to be respected. He gave us his assessment of a changing geopolitical world.

“Emerging countries say yes to modernisation. They say yes to globalisation of the economy. But they say no to the Westernisation of their societies. [...] They want to return to national values rooted in their collective memory.” This is what you wrote in January 2019. Is Russia part of the Western world?

I maintain what I wrote. I wish Russia was part of the Western world. If you look at the history of Russia – having become USSR, then Russia again – it wrestles back and forth between tsars willing to encircle Russia within its inner and historic frontiers, and tsars who wished to keep links with Europe and expand toward the European Union. 

Catherine the Great is a prime example of that. 

She took 500,000 square metres from the Ottomans – including Crimea – and annexed it under the Russian sphere. Where was she born? In Germany. 

She eventually became Russian after she married the tsar. She changed Russia by shifting closer toward the Western world. 

I would not say Vladimir Putin wants to keep Russia closer to its inner sphere of influence but he wants to rebuild – a bit like Catherine the Great and Stalin – the Great Russia. 

For all three, Ukraine is part of it.

Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs columnist of the Financial Times, wrote that the world is living in a second Cold War, saying that “the China focus of the Biden administration intensifies the tendency to see the war in Ukraine as not just about the security of Europe, but about the wider global order.” What do you think?

The “not just” is crucial here.

Americans do not want to lose supremacy over China but China is undeniably becoming an economic giant on its way to surpassing them.

American resentment is bolstered by Xi Jinping’s policies, in line with Mao. 

He is far from the Western-friendly Deng Xiaoping who governed in the late 1980s to 1990s. 

Americans cannot accept giving up the throne of the most powerful nation of the world.

The narrative has changed slightly with the war. The US wants to follow the Chinese proverb “Scare the chicken to make the monkey afraid” (the chicken being the Russian leader and the monkey Xi Jinping). 

They supply Ukrainians to show China and Russia their willingness to destroy any supremacist desire from them. 

The Ukrainian resistance sends a clear message to the Russian leader – but also to China.

I have been reading a lengthy recap of the lead-up to Brexit. I am coupling that with what you said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Point about the European Union no longer counting on America’s military forces except in Africa. Is the EU marginalised or is it standing on its own two feet?

It is part of a growing desire to create a third force. 

I think we are heading toward a Cold War 2.0 with an alliance between Russia and China, but where the dominant nation has switched from the 1950s, and the US is seeking ties with Australia, South Korea and Japan. 

We Europeans do not want that.

We want two balanced poles and an EU united when faced with difficulties. 

The war in Ukraine has proven that Europeans are united, following the unity we showed during the Covid pandemic period.

More so than during the migrant crisis in 2015…

But why is that? The Polish and members of the Baltic countries want to fight for Ukrainians more than the Portuguese or Maltese people, but during the migrant crisis, Italy, Spain and Greece were more affected than Baltic countries. 

Covid justified the reforms where the EU agreed to shoulder a shared part of debt for the first time in its history. 

The war in Ukraine is another opportunity to display global unity. 

European countries have imposed a sixth sanction package against Russia and have unanimously decided on rearmament policies. 

It is remarkable that the conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to the shared debt solution and the socialist German chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed to rearmament.

You co-signed, with 60 diplomats, an op-ed in favour of Mr Macron in 2017, saying that “he is the greatest asset – intellectually and politically – to define the long-term relationship the European Union must establish with Russia”.  How do you judge Mr Macron’s term and what should France’s role be in the war in Ukraine?  

I was right to sign that op-ed in 2017 and still agree with what was written. 

We need a leader who believes in Europe and has a wide and global understanding of the economic and strategic challenges ahead. 

About the war in Ukraine, do we want victory or peace? 

Baltic people and the Polish want a victory because they fear they could be the next in line after Ukraine. 

We believe it is not reasonable to ask Ukrainians to try to get a [military] victory in Donbas and Crimea. 

There will be a negotiation at some point with the Russian leader, no matter what happens.

We should do what Mr Sarkozy did in 2008 during the war in Georgia. I was there. The negotiation was brutal but something emerged and the troops left. 

Can we have dialogue with a leader such as Putin?

It is hard to answer. In 2008, yes. Is he the same now? I do not have an answer. 

But not having the answer does not mean giving up on discussion and negotiation. What is the alternative? 

An endless war until eventually one side emerges as the winner. 

Russian troops are gaining ground bit by bit in Donbas. 

We are experiencing chapter two of the war in which Russia – in pure Russian tradition – occupies and bombards territories, like they did with Syria or Chechnya.

It follows chapter one, which resulted in Russian troops failing to conquer Kyiv. I fear chapter three will see Russian troops marching toward Odessa. 

If they succeed, they will control the port of entries to the Black Sea and Azov, which could squeeze the Ukrainian economy. 

This is what we need to fight against. 

Like 99-year-old Henry Kissinger said: “After each war comes a negotiation.” The war will end with negotiation.

Can Macron expect to be remembered as a modern-day Charles de Gaulle?

General de Gaulle was convinced of the necessity of dialogue with the USSR. 

Presidents Chirac, Sarkozy and Macron have not varied. Geography is what it is. Russia is part of the European continent. 

I was referring to one of de Gaulle’s popular quotes about Europe’s reach “from the Atlantic to the Urals”.

It does not only depend on us but also on the Russian leader.

Gorbachev was open to Europe. Yeltsin was open to Europe. The current leader is rather anti-Europe. 

Is it irreversible? The current situation is certainly unsatisfactory. 

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