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France’s Sarkozy: Ukraine not fit for EU, must remain ‘neutral’

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Ukraine and Russia should find a compromise to end the war, and internationally ratified referenda should be organised on whether currently-occupied territories remain under Moscow’s control, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday (16 August).

Sarkozy, who was in office (2007-2012) when France held the EU’s rotating presidency in 2008 during Russia’s invasion of Georgia, told Le Figaro in an interview the bloc ought to “clarify [its] strategy” with regards to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

“Being at war whilst not being at war” is no longer a sustainable stance, Sarkozy said, calling on all parties to find a “compromise”, else things could take an ugly turn “at any moment”.

The comments were largely received as a move to distance from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Ukraine policy.

Since the start of the war in February 2022, EU leaders have continuously made clear they would not get directly involved. They have, however, supported Ukraine through unprecedented political, military and economic measures.

Back in 2008, at the heist of the Georgia war, Sarkozy claimed he had “convinced [Vladimir] Putin to withdraw Russian tanks out of Tbilisi” all the while taking Russia’s “red lines” into account.

“We [Sarkozy and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel] battled against Ukraine and Georgia’s access to NATO, despite US pressure,” he said in the interview with French media.

Fast forward 15 years and Putin’s Russia has not changed, Sarkozy said, stressing that “Russians are Slavs. They are different to us [but] we need them, and they need us”.

According to Sarkozy, Putin is not irrational or war-mongering for the sake of it, but rather “European interests are not aligned to the US'”, and EU leaders must act accordingly.

First and foremost, for him, this would mean “Ukraine must not join the EU. “

“Ukraine is a bridge between the West and the East [and] must remain so”, such that the country’s EU candidate status is at best “disingenuous”, comparing the process to Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU, which have reached a years-long stalemate, he said.

Instead, Ukraine ought to remain “neutral”, so as not to feed into Putin’s “anti-West paranoia”.

This principle of neutrality, Sarkozy told Le Figaro, must not be taken as an “insult”, and it would come with “an international agreement that enshrines extremely strong security guarantees, to protect [the country] from the risks of another attack”.

Asking Ukraine to choose between Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other, “appears to me contrary to the history and geography of the region. It would be na?ve to think that Putin’s fall would change this reality”, he said.

Immigration is matter of EU “survival”

In the same interview, Sarkozy also tackled the thorny issue of irregular migration and the risks he says it poses to the European continent.

France is currently home to some 110,000 Ukrainian refugees as of February 2023. Irregular migrants, while hard to quantify, are reportedly between 600,000 and 700,000.

“With the emotions that this humanitarian crisis creates, and the increasing number of rules that protect refugees, it has become impossible to limit and regulate migration flows”.

Instead, the focus should be on building visa “hot spots” in African countries, to prevent illegal flows.

Consequentially, any refugee setting foot on European soil without a valid leave to stay would be met with an automatic admission refusal, Sarkozy suggested.

It is down to the EU to build the infrastructure the African continent needs and encourage the African youth to stay.

“This isn’t about generosity. This is a matter of European survival”, Sarkozy explained.

[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Alice Taylor]

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