France and Germany are ready to pursue dialogue with Russia but if Moscow attacks Ukraine the price will be high, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, speaking at a press conference following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.
Macron said Europe and its allies were united on the Ukraine issue, including the need for de-escalation, but were also “preparing a common response” in case of Russian aggression.
“If there is an attack, there will be retaliation and the price [for Russia] will be very high,” Macron said.
Macron also said that the recent US-Russia talks over the Ukraine were a “good thing” but that they were yet to show any clear results. The French president said he would speak with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Friday.
“We call for a deescalation of tensions and I want to also say how united Germany and France are on this subject,” he added, following speculation that Berlin could be promoting a softer line regarding Russia.
“We are preparing in parallel a joint reaction and the response in case of aggression,” he said, adding that Western powers were “totally united”.
Scholz added: “We expect from Russia clear steps that contribute to a deescalation of the situation. We are all in agreement that a military aggression will trigger heavy consequences.”
He also stressed that Moscow would have a “very high price” to pay if it violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
‘Ukraine knows it can rely on Germany’
Scholz’s comments came as Germany has been sending mixed signals on the Ukrainian crisis with Berlin refusing to sell weapons to Kyiv.
When Germany’s navy chief, Kay-Achim Schoenbach, said last week that Putin deserved respect and that trying to win back Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, was a lost cause, he resigned.
But those unguarded comments made some Ukrainians question whether Germany can be trusted to help protect them. Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin decried “German arrogance” while Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Germany’s actions were encouraging Putin to attack.
Responding to criticism of Berlin’s refusal to follow other Western countries in sending Kyiv weapons to defend itself, Scholz said Germany has “done a great deal to actively support economic development and democratic development in Ukraine”.
He noted that there were historical reasons for Germany’s refusal to send lethal weapons to war zones.
“We feel responsible, for example, for ensuring that Ukraine remains a (gas) transit country,” he added. “Ukraine knows it can rely on Germany.”
‘Normandy format’ talks in Paris
Macron said his conversation with Putin on Friday would provide the chance for the Russian leader to give a “clarification” on Moscow’s plans for Ukraine.
The buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine has raised fears of a conflict over Moscow’s pro-EU neighbour but it remains unclear what the Kremlin’s intentions are.
Several analysts predict Russia is considering some kind of intervention in Ukraine, although Moscow has insisted it is not planning a new attack on its neighbour following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Senior representatives of Germany, Russia, and Ukraine are also due in Paris in Wednesday to discuss Ukraine along with French officials in the so-called four-way “Normandy” format.
Macron accused Russia of behaving as a “power of disequilibrium” through its behaviour not just in Ukraine but also Belarus, the Caucasus and Moldova.
He said that the situation was worrying, and required Europe to stay united and to prepare a “joint response”.
But he added: “It also means we should have a dialogue of clarification with Russia because I think that this dialogue is necessary to try to remove the ambiguities.”