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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French electricity grid operator to return €1 billion to clients

France's electrical grid operator RTE said on Wednesday that it would hand at least one billion euros back to major power users in early 2023, as its revenues have surged during Europe's energy crisis.

French electricity grid operator to return €1 billion to clients

The exact amount will “match the one-off profit forecast for 2022 with the electricity market under stress,” the largely state-owned RTE said in a statement.

It added that the reimbursement could reach a record of more than €1.5 billion.

The move comes as public pressure is growing for an EU-wide tax on the “super-profits” generated by energy companies as prices have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Almost 380 large-scale electricity buyers in industry would share around €130 million from the pot, RTE finance and purchasing director Laurent Martel told AFP.

The companies include chemical plants, metalworking sites, steelmaking operations as well as paper and cardboard factories.

But most of the payout — around 90 percent — will go to operators of local low- and medium-voltage networks, which bridge the gap between RTE and end users of electricity, from industry to households.

RTE’s revenues have been especially strong this year thanks to fees paid to use its so-called “interconnectors” across national borders.

These depend in part on the difference in electricity prices between France and its neighbours, which soared this year due to the energy crunch from the war in Ukraine and a large chunk of the country’s nuclear reactor fleet being under maintenance.

RTE said that without its plan to bring forward the reimbursement, the payments would instead be spread over several years.