It seems that Ukraine has won an important battle as it confronts Russia over history. For the first time ever, Ukrainian head of state has been invited to attend the Allied landing in Normandy anniversary. The Day wrote that inviting Russian president Vladimir Putin to the event caused outrage among the French public. Outstanding scholar and member of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences Alain Besancon told The Day that he considered “inviting Putin to attend the D-Day a shame.” According to him, it would be better to invite the president of Ukraine to the ceremony instead. After all, it comes at a time when Russia, on the other hand, has invaded Crimea in violation of all norms of international law and bilateral agreements with Ukraine. In addition, the Kremlin continues to destabilize the situation in the east of the country, despite the accord achieved in Geneva. The whole world is clearly seeing Russia’s interference with Ukraine’s internal affairs.
We also need to remember that Putin is trying to constantly emphasize that it is the Russians who are the winners in the Second World War, although in reality it was the Ukrainians and the Belarusians who made the greatest sacrifice in the war. Nevertheless, the master of the Kremlin states that the Russians would have coped with the Nazis even without the Ukrainian help.
So, statement of French President Francois Hollande, who warmly congratulated president-elect Poroshenko on behalf of the French people on May 27 and invited him to France to take part in a ceremony celebrating the Allied landings in Normandy anniversary on June 6, 2014, was quite a landmark for Ukraine.
But, as noted by The Day’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna on 112 Ukraina TV channel, it is very important for us because Russia has as much right to be called a heir of the victory in the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War as Belarus. “If they have invited Putin, I do not see any reason not to invite Alexander Lukashenko, as after what Putin did in Ukraine, he looks, in my opinion, worse than Lukashenko, who has been treated like an outcast in that part of Europe for a long time,” she said.
However, against the background of this seemingly good news, the events of May 29 have again raised the question of why Putin should be a guest in Normandy. After all, it is Russian weapons, which come across the Russian border to Ukraine, that terrorists, many of whom are Russian citizens, kill Ukrainians and attack military bases with. A military transport helicopter with 13 people on board was shot down by a Russian MANPADS on May 29. Despite calls from the international community and the Geneva agreement, Russia is not going to influence the separatist terrorists positively and furthermore, intends to keep arms supplies to Ukraine’s conflict zone going. We have reached the point where the French president will receive Putin and discuss the Ukrainian crisis with him, even though we are talking about the Russian aggression in fact.
The Day asked experts to comment on Hollande’s decision to invite the Ukrainian president to this ceremony.
“THE FRENCH HAVE REALIZED THAT UKRAINE MUST BE TAKEN INTO THE EUROPEAN FAMILY OF NATIONS”
Yurii KOCHUBEI, former Ambassador of Ukraine in France:
“It is positive that Poroshenko has been invited to these events. In my time as ambassador in France, I advocated the thesis that Ukraine was a member of the anti-Hitler coalition. That was in 1994. We actively participated then in the naval review called the Freedom Armada which was held in the city of Rouen, known for being the scene of Joan of Arc’s burning. Almost all the countries that participated in the anti-Hitler coalition were represented at that event with their warships, with frigate Hetman Sahaidachny representing Ukraine.
“I was trying to do everything at the time to have us considered participants of the coalition, even though we were part of the Soviet Union when the Normandy landings were undertaken.
“What about my take on the fact that Ukraine has received an invitation at the last moment? It seems to me that they did not want to send it at all. In my opinion, we had to raise the question from the outset that we also wanted to take part in these events and I would dare the French to say ‘no.’
“I have already given an example of how we did it in 1994. The French are a little disingenuous. If the French public has forced Hollande to invite Poroshenko, it means that the French have realized that Ukraine must be taken into the European family of nations. We have to work on it.
“By the way, in 1995, when the 50th anniversary of the war’s end was marked, I again made the point that we, as members of the anti-Hitler coalition, took part in a parade at the Arc de Triomphe. That is, Ukraine was among the countries recognized as having made a great contribution to the victory in the Second World War.”
Andrzej SZEPTYCKI, analyst at the Institute of International Relations of the University of Warsaw:
“Hollande’s decision to invite Poroshenko is suboptimal. It has to do with the need to commemorate the victims, including fallen soldiers of the Soviet Army, which was one of the main forces in the fight with Germany. In the present political situation, when Russia has launched an aggressive war on its neighbor, it would be better not to invite Putin. If he was already invited by the time the crisis started, it would be good to let him know that he is now unwelcome at the event.
“Although Ukraine has recognized Russia as the legal successor of the USSR and is not an equal co-successor of the USSR, we need to invite all members of the anti-Hitler coalition to attend such events. In this case, the French had to invite both Ukrainians and Belarusians. And here it is rather political context involved, as France attempts to have good relations with Russia despite all.”
What does it mean for Poland that Poroshenko will make his first foreign visit to your country?
“This is a clear signal from the new Ukrainian president. First visit after any change of government, not only after a revolution, is a political signal about some priorities. Let us recall that Viktor Yushchenko made his first visit to Moscow, while Viktor Yanukovych went to Brussels on his first trip.
“Poroshenko shows that Ukraine considers its relations with neighbors to be very important. I personally like the fact that Ukraine recognizes the role that Poland has played as an ally of Ukraine in the EU, especially during the Euromaidan.
“As for the meeting of the three presidents: Poroshenko, Barack Obama, and Bronislaw Komorowski on Polish soil, it is, in my opinion, a recognition of the role of Poland as a coordinator in the region.”
“THE INVITATION SENT TO THE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IS A CASE OF RESTORATION OF HISTORICAL JUSTICE”
Galia ACKERMAN, director of magazine Politique Diplomatique’s Russian bureau:
“Many famous public figures asked Hollande to invite the president of Ukraine to the Normandy Allied Landings anniversary. Overall, they had lobbied the idea until it reached Hollande, and then it was entirely his decision. The argument was very simple: Russia, of course, is the successor state of the Soviet Union, but only if we are talking about the USSR’s official liabilities. However, it may not be the sole heir to the victory of the Soviet people, that is, all the nations that made up the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the second largest of the post-Soviet nations which went through heavy fighting, suffering losses which were proportionally heavier than even Russia’s. According to various estimates, at least eight million Ukrainians died in the Second World War. A result of the war was Ukraine and Belarus, together with the Soviet Union, getting seats on the United Nations as victorious nations. It seems logical to just keep in mind the contribution of the Ukrainian people to the victory. The invitation sent to the Ukrainian president is a case of restoration of historical justice. This is especially important on the eve of 2015, the year marking the 70th anniversary of the great victory. It is important that Ukraine take part in all these festivities as an equal major country.”
How do the French now perceive Putin, who has been invited to these celebrations while Russia has become an aggressor, occupied Crimea, and has been behind the events in eastern Ukraine, destabilizing the situation there?
“A large majority of French society do not have their own views on the matter. However, TV is not following a pro-Russian line. I think people are well aware that it is the Russian intervention. Another thing is that there is a strong pro-Russian lobby, which believes that the annexation of Crimea is perfectly legal because Crimea has always been Russian. In fact, few people know the history of the matter. The Ukrainian situation is quite complicated, and very few people understand it. So I think that for the most people the conflict in Ukraine is something happening far enough. As for the political elite, of course, it is divided into those who believe that France needs Russia, must build a business relationship with it and so on, and those for whom it is inadmissible. Fortunately, it seems to me that the current government does take quite a principled stance on this aggression and supports Ukraine rather than Russia on that count. Despite this, the Mistral ships look set to be transferred to the Russian ownership.”
For an outsider, it looks like a Russian bribe given to Nicolas Sarkozy for his ignoring Russia’s non-compliance with all six points of the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement on the settlement of the Georgian-Russian conflict...
“That was it. Of course, the very signing of the Mistral contract was a big mistake. The contract was prepared in 2007 before Medvedev’s Georgian war. We had Fillon as prime minister then, who always held a pro-Russian stance, and France followed the US to pursue a policy of reset with Russia. However, the war in Georgia came about later, and we ought to refuse to sign the contract. But Sarkozy got promises that were not met, as the Russians just outsmarted him. On the other hand, he still managed to save Georgia from a complete takeover by Russian troops.
“Shipyards know that there is a large commercial order and to take it away would not be easy. Now it is too late altogether, as the ships have been built. This is a very strong political gesture, and it would be very economically disadvantageous to just defiantly break this contract now.
“And furthermore, it would cause unrest. Hollande is a very weak president. He could make a symbolic gesture by inviting Poroshenko, because it does not have any economic costs. But in a situation where the country suffers from a high unemployment, when the elections to the European Parliament saw his Socialist Party receiving 13 percent, and when his own popularity has fallen to 17 percent... I think it would cause a large wave of discontent in a society that does not want to increase the deficit, to lose the two billion-worth order, possibly have to pay a fine and engage in international litigation. Was his a strong popular government, it probably would go for it. But Hollande today, pardon the expression, is a doormat. I think he finds difficult to make such a move, making it even easier for him to make a gesture that is totally commitment-free.”
“IT IS A CLEAR SIGNAL OF FRENCH POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE”
Tatiana KASTUEVA-JEAN, program manager for Russie/NEI.Visions at the French Institute of International Relations:
“I think that the decision to invite the newly elected president of Ukraine is, first and foremost, a clear signal of French, and generally Western, political support for Ukraine, as the ceremony will be attended by leaders of many countries. It is a strong indication of hope that the way has been opened to exit the acute phase of the crisis. In addition, perhaps the French leader wants to play a special role at this stage, making France the first country that the Ukrainian leader will visit and meet Putin in, because Sarkozy played a special role in resolving the crisis involving Russia and Georgia in 2008.
“At the summit, world leaders, except for Hollande, do not plan to have separate bilateral meetings with Putin, and rumor has it that they do not want to be photographed with him, etc. Still, being present at an event, it is difficult to avoid face-to-face contacts. I think that proposed Putin’s ostracization or subjecting him to a kind of boycott-lite during the event where he has been invited to represent Russia which made great sacrifices during the Great Patriotic War and which is not limited to its leader, – it would be a sort of half-hearted and even childish strategy. It is better to take this opportunity to have some direct, even hard-hitting, talks. The world leaders will have to continue to deal and negotiate with Putin not only on Ukraine, but also on Iran, Syria, etc.”