Russia - Ukraine: François Hollande: “I absolutely do not believe that Putin is going through a crisis of madness or paranoia” | International

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No: Vladimir Putin has not lost his sense of reality. And no: he is not crazy or paranoid.

The one who affirms it is François Hollande, French president between 2012 and 2017, who a few years ago spent hours and hours negotiating with him. Face to face sometimes. Others, accompanied by the then chancellor, Angela Merkel.

It was 2014, the Russian president had launched his first assault on Ukraine and would end up annexing the Crimean peninsula and creating a separatist region in the east of the country. That pulse allowed Hollande (Rouen, 67 years old) to understand something of Putin's psychology. And he is convinced that his recent actions - the invasion of Ukraine or the threat of a nuclear bomb - follow a logic.

"I absolutely do not share the idea of ​​a crisis of madness or paranoia," Hollande declared this Monday, in his office in Paris, during an interview with EL PAÍS and other newspapers of the LENA group. “I have always looked at Putin for who he is, and he has a logic. He is extremely dangerous, but there is a logic”.

On Friday, the current president, Emmanuel Macron, received Hollande at the Elysee Palace, his former residence, to discuss the war. When asked if Macron made a mistake or was naive in negotiating with Putin until the last moment before the invasion, he replies: “It is never a mistake to dialogue and negotiate. If there was a mistake, it was thinking that Vladimir Putin was telling the truth and opening a door to discussion when he was slamming the door in the hands of Westerners”.

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The former socialist president, today retired from the front line but active in public debate, relativizes the nuclear threat that Putin wields. “He knows that today he doesn't have a real scope,” he says. "It is to impress and to intimidate us, but he would have everything to lose in a conflict that would be destructive for his country." And he adds: "Regarding the bombing in Ukraine, he is careful not to create an irreversible situation that could seriously endanger the civilian population, although it has already caused numerous deaths."

What the Russian president is looking for, underlines the former president, "is the paralysis of Ukraine, the control of the airspace and the destruction of the military infrastructures to then enter into a negotiation process." “Many Russian families”, he continues, “are linked to the Ukraine in Russia. Destroying houses, bombing cities would undoubtedly cause a state of shock in Russia. Try to neutralize Ukraine, not destroy it. There is a rationale, and it's frightening enough that we don't look for psychological arguments."

Hollande applauds the shipment of weapons to Ukraine by the allies, although in his opinion they have come late, and the massive sanctions, although they should be greater. “To live up to the seriousness of the act that Vladimir Putin has committed,” he argues, the sanctions should extend to the suspension of Russian oil and gas supplies.

The former president believes that this is the way to force Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. “In the same way that Vladimir Putin wants to suffocate the economy and destroy Ukraine's infrastructure in order to drive Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender,” he says, “we must paralyze the Russian economy to drive Putin to withdrawal, the ceasefire and negotiation. Putin, he maintains at another time, "only understands the relationship of power, and when nothing resists him, he advances."

The diplomatic solution, according to Hollande, would consist of returning "in some way" to the Minsk agreements that in 2015 were supposed to start the failed peace process. This would imply "a withdrawal of foreign forces and then guarantee the integrity [territorial de Ucrania] and, therefore, a discussion process to end the separatist republics”.

Should Putin be given, as he demands, security guarantees? Hollande explains: “I have always remembered that Ukraine has no vocation to join NATO”. But he adds: "Ukraine has the right to choose its destiny, to work with Europe, eventually to have the protection of allies."

Of his long conversations with Putin, he recalls: “You had to take your time. Sometimes, spending the whole night and then the morning, without sleeping, to press until the end. It was not necessary to fall into the game of his more or less feigned anger or his sweetness, more or less sincere ”.

The ideas that Putin is now applying with bombs and missiles in Ukraine are not new or the result of improvisation or momentary exaltation. "What has been inscribed in Putin's head for a long time is to rediscover Russia's influence in the former countries of the former Soviet Union, but he was not clear on how to achieve it or in what time frame," he says. “I proceeded in stages and seized every opportunity,” he adds. And he remembers that in Syria, in Libya, in the Sahel or in Belarus, among other points on the map, he advanced and advanced in the face of the indifference or paralysis of the West.

Hollande lists, among the signs of weakness towards Putin, President Barack Obama's decision not to respond militarily in Syria when in 2012 Bashar El Assad's regime used chemical weapons, Donald Trump's complacency with the Russian president and the abrupt and chaotic Afghanistan last summer with Joe Biden already in the White House.

But wouldn't France and the EU have had to be tougher on Russia in 2014 when he was president and Putin started harassing Ukraine? "We were, to the point that the pressure made it possible to conclude the Minsk agreements with Chancellor Merkel," he replies. "But the sanctions were surely not enough because they did not prevent the absorption of Crimea by Russia."

At the end of these years, says Hollande, "without a doubt [Putin] he felt drunk with his success and ready to perform in the Ukraine thinking there would be no notable reaction,” he says. "But he was wrong."

Now he faces two options “Either he embarks on a long conflict that will progressively freeze, as he has always done. Or, second option, the price we make him pay for his invasion is such that he seeks a solution. In this case, the negotiation can come quickly. Hence the importance of the pressure we must exert. And I want to underline the resistance of the Ukrainians, something that I had not evaluated at first and that inflicts quite serious losses on the Russian army. This has consequences for public opinion when the families see the coffins arrive.”

–Has Putin made a mistake?

-He has committed a fault that will cost him dearly for a long time.

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