Macron-Putin talks, SNCF free trains: Four Ukraine-France updates

We also summarise statements from the French Finance Minister in which he says that France will wage an ‘all-out economic war against Russia’

A man participating in a demonstration in support of Ukraine in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) on Sunday (February 27)
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Update at 15:50 on March 1, 2022: France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire later backtracked on his comments, saying he regretted the use of the term "war". We have updated the article to clarify this point, under the sub-heading '‘We will collapse the Russian economy’ - France’s finance minister'

It is now five full days since Russia launched a wide-scale invasion of Ukraine, on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This has led to the death of at least 102 Ukrainian civilians the UN has said, although the numbers are feared to be much higher.

Ukraine’s health ministry puts the figure at 352, including 14 children.

France has, alongside the European Union and several other powers, introduced extensive economic and business-related sanctions on Russia in response.

Below we outline four of the key updates involving France that have taken place in the past 24 hours.

President Macron says Putin willing to end strikes

President Emmanuel Macron held a one-and-a-half hour phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday (February 28), at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

It came as extensive talks between a Russian and Ukrainian delegation took place in Belarus. A second round of talks is expected in the next few days.

Mr Macron said that during the talks Mr Putin expressed willingness to end strikes on Ukraine, and that he would remain in touch with the Russian president in the coming days.

“I am in constant communication with President Zelensky. I would like to commend his great sense of responsibility,” Mr Macron tweeted, following his call with Mr Putin.

“To President Putin, I reiterated the international community’s demand to end the Russian offensive against Ukraine and insisted on the need to immediately establish a ceasefire.

“With discussions starting between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, I asked him to stop all strikes and attacks on civilians and residential areas, preserve all civilian infrastructure and secure main roads.

“He confirmed his willingness to commit to these points.

“I demanded compliance with international humanitarian law and the protection of civilian populations, such as aid delivery.

“In this respect, France submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council.

“To prevent the situation from worsening, I suggested to President Putin that we stay in contact over the coming days. We will continue our discussions.”

SNCF makes trains free for Ukrainian refugees

SNCF will allow Ukrainian refugees to travel for free in France on TGV and Intercity trains, the group's CEO announced on Twitter.

“The crisis that hits Ukraine touches us all. SNCF and the railway workers stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian refugees,” Jean-Pierre Farandou wrote.

A spokesperson for SNCF said that the details and terms of how this system will work for refugees are being worked on and “will be clarified rapidly”.

Train networks in several other European countries, such as Germany, Austria and Poland, have taken similar steps.

‘We will collapse the Russian economy’ - France’s finance minister

The French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has said that France is going to “wage an all-out economic and financial war against Russia”.

“We will cause the collapse of the Russian economy,” he said, speaking this morning (March 1) on Franceinfo.

He said financial sanctions would be applied to Russia until the country returns to having an acceptable relationship with Ukraine.

“It is Russia that will suffer,” he said, but admitted that inflation may increase in Europe.

“The only consequence that Europe may have in the coming weeks is a small increase in prices depending on the increase in energy prices.”

However, Mr Le Maire later in the day backtracked on his comments, saying he regretted the use of the term "war".

"It was inappropriate and does not correspond to our de-escalation strategy," he said.

"We are not in conflict with the Russian people," he added.

His admittance that the term was incorrect came after criticism from former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

He said, "a French minister said today that they have declared economic war on us. Be careful with your speech, gentlemen. And don't forget that economic wars in the history of humanity have often turned into real wars".

Read more: Conflict in Ukraine: Petrol prices hit record highs in France

In this morning's interview, Mr Le Maire was also asked if the French oil company Total and French utility company Engie would follow other international oil giants Shell and BP in cutting ties with Russia, to which he said he would speak with the companies’ management.

“I believe that there is now a problem of principles in working with any political or economic figure close to Russian power,” he added.

French people in Kyiv feel ‘abandoned’ after embassy moves out of city

France has decided to move its embassy in Ukraine from the capital Kyiv, which is under attack from Russia, to the western city of Lviv.

The decision was announced yesterday (February 28) by the country’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

He said that the move was due to “the risks and threats that Kyiv faces”.

However, his decision has been criticised by certain French people still in Kyiv.

Jérémie, the head of a logistics company there, called it “scandalous” and said the French citizens in Kyiv felt abandoned by the move.

“I find this a monstrous scandal,” he told Franceinfo.

“In times of war, you don't leave your countrymen behind. It is really cowardly.

“They could have asked the French people to get themselves together in a convoy with all those who wanted to leave, and everything would have been fine,” he told Franceinfo.

It is estimated that around a thousand French people are still in the Ukrainian capital.

For independent news in English about the Ukraine situation, see the Kyiv Independent.

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