With a severe approach, a worried face, his eyes light up when he evokes the resistance of his compatriots against the Russian aggressor. Vadym Omelchenko, Ukrainian ambassador to France, returns for L’Express to Emmanuel Macron’s statements, according to which “we must not humiliate Russia”, which greatly displeased kyiv. The diplomat recalls the symbolic importance that a visit by the French president would have for his country, as well as the acceptance of Ukraine’s candidacy for membership of the European Union (EU). As the war threatens to drag on, he reaffirms his people’s determination to “liberate the Ukrainian territories”. Maintenance.

Once again, French President Emmanuel Macron recommended not to “humiliate Russia”. How did you react ?

I honestly try to understand the objectives of the messages sent to us by President Macron. In this context, I would like to quote a very wise quotation from General de Gaulle, pronounced in the middle of the Cold War, on August 13, 1961, at the start of the construction of the Berlin Wall, to which I often refer. According to him, facing the Soviets in Berlin, the Allies had to maintain their positions by force. Certainly, he adds, there is a risk of escalation, and we could “come down to a general war, but then it is because the Soviets would have deliberately wanted it and in this case, any retreat prerequisite of the West would only have served to weaken and divide it”. According to your former leader, without preventing the “threat”, “any recoil has the effect of overexciting the aggressor, pushing him to redouble his pressure, and finally facilitating and hastening his assault”. And to conclude: “Western powers have no better way to serve the peace of the world than to stand straight and firm.” Sapienti sat [Editor’s note: for the record].

On May 30, the European Council declared an embargo on imports of Russian oil, which will take effect before the end of the year. Is this decision going in the right direction?

It is very important for us, because it proves that European unity has not been damaged. A compromise has been found, so much the better. At the same time, this is just the start. This sixth sanctions package has demonstrated that the whole world remains dependent on Russian energy. Every day, oil and gas brings in $1 billion for Russia. This is unacceptable, because these funds are used to finance the war and to maintain the police structure of Russia, which helps Putin and his regime to stay in power.

On energy issues, we now see the countries that are entirely dependent on Russia – such as Hungary, which opposes the embargo – and those that are not, for example France. For its part, Ukraine has been dependent on Russian energy for years, because we benefited from preferential tariffs. But our society suffered, in return, from the influence of Russia. After the Maidan revolution of 2014, Ukraine gave up these advantageous tariffs, and this was one of our first signs of independence. Before us, the Baltic countries had switched to market prices in 1991. At the time, a Lithuanian diplomat explained to me that this decision had caused a serious crisis in his country. The Lithuanians paid five to six times more for their gas than the Ukrainians, but they knew that was the price of their independence. By signing this embargo agreement on Monday, May 30, Europe has taken a step towards its independence.

The war seems set to last; do you fear that Western support will eventually wane?

Today we are experiencing a hybrid conflict with several dimensions – military and economic war, nuclear threat… Not to mention the information war, which accelerated when Ukrainian troops pushed back Russian forces in Kharkiv. The Russians are fighting the unity of the Western world by all means, but we hope that their solidarity will continue, because we are at a moment of change: either the West chooses Russian money, or it favors principles, such as Americans did it, giving up Siberian oil. Our hope is that the leaders of democratic countries, starting with France and Germany, lose their illusions with regard to Russia.

The French President and the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are continuing the dialogue with Vladimir Putin and are not ruling out the possibility of a negotiation: what do you think?

Concerning France, we do not see any act committed behind the back of Ukraine. We know what the French president says to Putin, and in most cases he does it at our request. In fact, few world leaders maintain communication with Putin. Today, the hot topics are the humanitarian situation in the Donbass and the food crisis. When Emmanuel Macron raises with Putin the issue of blocking the ports of the Odessa region, where nearly 40% of the food exported to the rest of the world transits, it is not only important for Ukraine, but for the planet. However, Russia is carrying out a deliberate blockade, it is a weapon of blackmail.

How do you judge the attitude of Germany, criticized for being too cautious?

France and Germany are not going at the same speed. Emmanuel Macron forces the Germans to accelerate. In Germany, the political situation is tense, the political parties have different positions, which leads to a certain inertia. Today, the statements of Chancellor Olaf Scholz – more committed than before – are out of step with his actions, particularly in terms of arms deliveries, which are insignificant. But we know how closely Germany was tied to Russia economically and politically…

Clément Beaune, Minister Delegate in charge of Europe, declared on May 22 that Ukraine’s accession to the European Union will take “probably fifteen or twenty years”. Were you disappointed?

Emmanuel Macron initially said that Ukraine’s integration into the EU could take “decades”. After that, the French and Ukrainian presidents spoke to each other. Ukraine realizes that joining the EU can take time and that it implies applying rules, procedures, reforms. Our country is ready to follow this path. How long will it take? No one knows. But what we are asking for is that we be granted candidate status for membership. For us, it is very important from a symbolic point of view, so that the Ukrainian people, who are suffering and fighting on the battlefields, see it as a sign of solidarity. During her visit to kyiv, the French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, took a clear position by stating that France would support our request.

Emmanuel Macron has still not visited Ukraine. Would a visit by the French president be an important symbol?

When we hear President Macron say that he does not want to come to Ukraine if he has nothing to announce to the Ukrainian people, it is a noble statement. But for us, what is important is that he comes! When our soldiers can take breaks, between two fights, they watch the news. If they see that the President of France is in Ukraine, they will think that the Ukrainian people are not alone and that they are trusted. This will boost their motivation. Same thing for the refugees who are in France, for whom the only question is “When are we going to return home?” : it will create hope to see Emmanuel Macron in Kyiv.

How would you describe the evolution of the military situation on the ground, after more than one hundred days of war?

The Russians, who had initially targeted a large part of our country, were defeated and had to withdraw to the east. Today, their entire army is concentrated on a front of 100 kilometers, and that weighs. Their military resources are far greater than ours. I can’t even understand how we manage to hold on… But we have hope: we are forming reserves, we are training, we are waiting for arms deliveries. During this time, the Russians are exhausted and the morale of their troops is very low. Among the good news, we have started a counter-offensive in the south, in Kherson.

From the first day of the war, to compensate for our numerical inferiority, we resorted to astute practices, which are not found in military manuals. This is the Cossack approach! One day, for example, we blew up a small dyke as a convoy of Russian tanks approached kyiv. Hundreds of tanks ended up in the water.

What would a victory be for you?

Let’s start by establishing what it would be for the Russians… In January, Moscow issued an ultimatum to the NATO countries. They were to return to Europe to the positions they occupied in 1997. If they did not respond within a month, the Russians would take “military-technical” measures. Who today remembers this ultimatum? Similarly, after entering kyiv, they failed to kill Volodymyr Zelensky and take over Ukraine. The luck of the Russian leaders is that their people, under the influence of propaganda, do not ask them for explanations. No one questions them about the reasons that led to these fights and all these deaths… Today, these leaders claim that their objective is to “liberate the people” of Lugansk and Donetsk. But to “liberate” them, they massacre them and raze their towns! Thus, more than 60% of buildings in Severodonetsk are destroyed. It’s a funny definition of the word “liberation”, don’t you think? According to the UN, more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the Russian invasion and this human toll is undoubtedly much higher. It is difficult to estimate the real extent and to count the dead in the occupied territories. In Mariupol alone, the mayor of the city puts the number of victims at nearly 22,000.

And for the Ukrainians, then, what would be the victory?

We have no intention of going to Russia and planting a flag over the Kremlin, but we are not going to give up what is ours. Polls in the country also show that more than 80% of the population does not accept the idea of ​​making territorial concessions. We were ready to come to the negotiating table when the Russians withdrew from the outskirts of kyiv. And then we discovered Boutcha and the other massacres… Today, we have only one objective: the liberation of Ukrainian territories. But other questions arise. Should we forgive? What about repairs? Who will pay?

How can this war end?

I do not exclude the possibility that third countries may have no other choice, sooner or later, than to intervene in this war. This will depend on several factors, and first of all on the successes of the Ukrainian army. It also cannot be ruled out that something is happening in Russia. The information is starting to sink in and the conversations we intercept in Russia show this clearly. At first, we heard a lot of talk inspired by Moscow propaganda. For example, that it was necessary “to wrest the Russian-speaking provinces from the Ukrainian Nazis”. But for several weeks the same question has often come up: “What the hell are we doing over there?” In addition, Bellingcat [Editor’s note: an investigation site run by researchers and citizen investigators] has observed a very strong increase in requests for Ukraine and Europe on the Russian Internet. This means that people are starting to look for objective sources of information. You know, I lived in the Soviet era and I remember those few days, between August 19 and 23, 1991, when everything changed. All of a sudden people came out into the streets, the riots started. There were then 19 million members of the Communist Party in Russia and 7 million KGB officers. But on August 23, there was no one left! The system had collapsed because it was not a force capable of resisting. Like what, anything can happen in this war… Absolutely anything.