French concern grows over Ukraine tension

The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius expressed his deep concern about the growing tensions in Crimea on Friday, which one expert told The Local was a "dangerous" situation that now affects all of Europe.

French concern grows over Ukraine tension
Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport on February 28, 2014. Ukraine accused today Russia of staging an "armed invasion" of Crimea. Photo: AFP

France, Germany and Poland said they were"deeply concerned" Friday over developments on the volatile Crimea peninsula and called for everything to be done to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

On Friday Ukraine accused Russia of staging an "armed invasion" of Crimea and appealed to the West to guarantee its territorial integrity after pro-Moscow gunmen took control of the peninsula's main airport.

The EU foreign ministers urged talks between the two sides.

"Everything must be done in order to reduce the tensions in the eastern regions of the country and to promote a peaceful dialogue between all participating powers," the three EU countries' foreign ministers said in a joint statement.

France's Laurent Fabius, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski also confirmed their support for the "sovereignty and the territorial integrity" of Ukraine, the statement said.

"We call on all parties in Ukraine to desist from acts which could endangerthis," added the statement, a week after the three ministers travelled to Ukraine to help broker a peace deal to end three months of unrest.

But tensions have now spiralled on the strategic southeastern peninsula of Crimea where Ukrainian authorities said Friday they had regained control of two airports seized during an "armed invasion" by Russian forces

Ensuring the diversity of Ukraine's society requires the inclusion of eastern and southern regions and consideration of "all legitimate interests, including the rights of minorities", the ministers added.

Nicu Popescu, a senior analyst from the EU's Institute for security Studies, based in Paris stressed the crisis now had serious implications for all of Europe.

“We have a pre-war situation in a European country and have had people being killed in a European capital city. This has already gone way beyond Russian – Ukraine relations,” he said.

“The situation now is extremely dangerous. Ten days ago you would never have thought Ukrainians would be shooting each on the streets of Kiev.

“There were 80 people killed in one, which is similar to a death toll you see in a low level civil war.

Popescu says the EU will have to remain a unified voice over the coming days as the West tries to bolster Ukraine's voice amid pressure from Russia.

“The EU foreign ministers have already acted to stop the bloodshed in Kiev, without them, there would have been a lot more,” he said. “We can expect them to continue to be strong on the diplomatic front.

“It’s unlikely the Ukraine will go for a military showdown and I doubt high level Russian policy maker would really want a cessation of the Crimea. That would create a huge number of problems.” 

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Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.