France‘s foreign minister said on Friday that Russia was trying to bypass the European Union by holding talks directly with the United States over Ukraine, according to Reuters.
Talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats will begin in Geneva on Monday after a weeks-long stand-off over Russian troop deployments near its border with neighbouring Ukraine, with envoys on each side trying to avert a crisis.
“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin wants to bypass the European Union… he wants to put dents in the EU cohesion, which is solidifying,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV and RMC Radio. “You can’t envisage EU security without the Europeans.”
Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and though Moscow says it has no plans to invade its neighbour, Putin has demanded legally-binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards.
“Putin has proposed to discuss with NATO to sort of return to the zones of influence from the past…which would mean Russia restore the spirit of Yalta,” Le Drian said referring to the conference between allies in Feburary 1945 that gave the Soviet Union control over its eastern European neighbours.
“This is not our point of view, but we have to accept the discussion.”
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West. Kyiv wants the territory back.
Le Drian said any further military incursion into Ukraine by Russia would bring “serious strategic consequences”, with one option on the table being a review the Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
He said that despite Putin’s assurances that he was beginning to withdraw troops from the region, Paris had yet to see that happen.
Senior French and German diplomats met with Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday as part of efforts to revive peace talks over eastern Ukraine.