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UKRAINE

France fears ‘the worst is ahead of us’ in Russia’s war on Ukraine

France on Thursday expressed fears that the worst phase of Russia's war on Ukraine could be yet to start, with key Ukrainian cities at risk of encirclement by Russian forces.

France fears 'the worst is ahead of us' in Russia's war on Ukraine
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

“I think it is possible that the worst is ahead of us,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 TV, saying that Russia would look to besiege cities after its initial expectations of a quick victory were scuppered by Ukrainian resistance.”

The foreign ministry on Thursday also “strongly” urged its citizens to leave Russia if their presence there was “not essential”.

“In the context of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and following the imposition of international sanctions, we must increase our vigilance,” the foreign ministry wrote on its website. Already on Sunday, Paris had recommended French citizens passing through Russia to leave the country. 

Le Drian told France 2: “The Russians entered Ukraine looking for a blitzkrieg, a fast advance that would allow Russia to control Ukraine.

“It was not the case, due to the exemplary, courageous and strong resistance from the Ukrainians.”

He said after the fall to Russia of the southern city of Kherson – confirmed by Ukraine overnight – centres including Kharkiv in the east, Mariupol in the south and Kyiv itself were at risk of encirclement.

“As fores build up around those cities we can fear a siege mentality,” he said.

Le Drian recalled past Russian tactics in the war in Syria and also against separatists in the region of Chechnya.

“The Russians are used to this – remember Aleppo, Grozny. This could be very grave. The disaster continues and Russia’s despicable aggression continues.”

Asked what President Vladimir Putin’s strategy was for Ukraine, Le Drian replied the Russian leader wanted “the negation of Ukraine and the negation of a democratic country on his doorstep.”

He said that the tensions over the pro-Moscow Ukrainian breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk ahead of the Russian invasion on February 24th were just an “alibi, a pretext”.

“Putin’s wish is to avoid having democratic models on his doorstep that could eventually have an influence on the development of Russia,” he said.

Le Drian is due later on Thursday to visit Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova in a show of support for its pro-EU government as Russian forces seek to press further east.

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UKRAINE

France ‘strongly condemns’ Russia’s expulsion of its diplomats

France "strongly condemns" the expulsion of 34 of its diplomats by Russia, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, a tit-for-tat move by Moscow after Paris ordered some Russian staff to leave.

France 'strongly condemns' Russia's expulsion of its diplomats

Saying the step had “no legitimate basis”, the ministry said in a statementthat “the work of the diplomats and staff at (France’s) embassy in Russia… takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled the Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in a tit-for-tat move following the
expulsion of Russian diplomats from France as part of joint European action over Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

“Thirty four employees of French diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared persona non grata,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that they have two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement
said.

“It has been stressed that this step causes serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation,” the foreign ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially led diplomatic outreach to the Kremlin over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine but his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin have eventually tapered off and overt French military
support to Ukraine has increased in recent months.

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