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Russia’s war in Ukraine ‘naked aggression’; working with India to mitigate its consequences: French envoy Lenain

Russia’s war in Ukraine is a “naked aggression” without any provocation and France and India are working together to mitigate the consequences of the conflict including global food and energy security, French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said.

In an interview to PTI, the envoy said France strongly condemned Russia’s “illegal” annexation of four Ukrainian regions and described it as a serious violation of both international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict, Lenain said leaders of both India and France are working together to convince Moscow to return to the negotiating table for resolving the crisis.

“We feel that Putin wants to return to the time of imperialism and that’s exactly what we want to avoid in Europe and anywhere else in the world, especially in this region where I am talking,” he said.

“In the Indo-Pacific too, we do not want this, and I am sure India does not want any neighbour to encroach on borders by pure aggression,” Lenain said without elaborating further.

There has been fresh outrage in Europe over Putin’s announcement on Friday of annexing into Russia four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia which marked the largest forcible takeover of European territory since World War II.

The ambassador said France “highly respects” India’s autonomy of decision and complimented Modi’s comments during a meeting with Putin in the Uzbek city of Samarkand last month urging him to return to the path of dialogue and saying that “today’s era is not of war”.

“I think it was a very welcome remark, as always, and you have seen that President Emmanuel Macron in his speech in New York to the UN General Assembly has mentioned and quoted Prime Minister Modi,” the envoy said.

“That’s exactly the sort of statements we need, to call on Putin to stop this war of aggression and go back to the negotiating table,” he added.

India has consistently been calling for an end to the hostilities in Ukraine and pitched for dialogue while refraining from condemning Russia for the invasion of the eastern European country.

“What can we do together? A lot. We are working on how to mitigate the consequences of the war on food security and energy security,” the envoy said.

“In a crisis like this, weaker countries pay the price. So, we want to take initiatives to alleviate. President Macron has proposed an initiative called FARM on food security and I know that India is very willing to take new initiatives in the run-up to its G20 presidency next year,” he said.

France and India have been in touch with each other on the Ukraine crisis and the issue figured prominently during telephonic talks in recent months between Modi and Macron.

“We feel it is a naked aggression by a country on another one, on a democracy, an aggression which was without any provocation and that it is not in keeping with the principles of international order,” Lenain said.

“It is very important that we stand with each other and defend these rules. That being said, on this subject as any others, we highly respect India’s autonomy of decision,” he added.

Putin’s decision to annexe the four regions has been seen as attempt by Russia to escalate its confrontation with the Western world.

The French envoy said leaders of both India and France are working together to convince Putin to end the war.

“We are working very much together. What can we also do is obviously try to convince Putin to go back to diplomacy, to negotiate. One of the key actions by our leaders in the last few months has been — however difficult it is — to maintain a channel with Putin to try to pass this message,” he said.

On Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Lenain said France strongly condemns the illegal action.

“It is a serious violation of both international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty. It illustrates what I said: Putin wants to return to the ear of imperialism and a world where might makes right. We will continue to stand by Ukraine,” he said.

India has abstained from a UN Security Council resolution condemning Moscow’s annexation of parts of Ukraine.

Regarding India-France bilateral ties, the envoy described the friendship between the two countries as “very natural and very strong”.

“First of all, we are the best partners of all. We have been partnering for over 75 years now and we have always stood at each other’s side, in good and in bad times. Our friendship is very natural, very strong,” he said.

“Our strategic partnership is turning 25 next year. It is a partnership of equals and it is a partnership to boost each other’s strategic autonomy. We are two very highly independent countries,” he noted.

The ambassador said the cooperation between the two countries is now expanding to new areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber and the digital domain.

“This partnership, given the level of trust between our two countries, is expanding in all the new areas where our future lies: digital, cyber, AI and many others. It is really the strength of our trust that allows us to go and venture into all these areas,” Lenain said.

The French envoy also said that India and France have been expanding their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

“We work together on connectivity, health and climate issues. And we want to do even more with India. During the visit of our foreign minister (to India) a few days ago, it was announced that our two countries are launching a joint Fund to promote initiatives in the Indo-pacific area by companies in line with these goals,” he said.

“This is very important and that’s what we have been pushing the EU to do more in more,” he noted. 

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