Sarkozy's: compromise with the Kremlin, and how he personally stopped Russian tanks 25 km from Tbilisi
Sarkozy on Russia, Ukraine and Georgia
In a recent sensational interview with Le Figaro Magazine, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged compromise and continued negotiations with Vladimir Putin, and warned Europe against accepting Ukraine into the EU and NATO.
Since his election defeat in 2012, one of the best-known French presidents in Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy, has published five volumes of his memoirs and reflections, and a sixth, entitled Le temps des combats, or “The Time of Battles,” has just been published. On the occasion of the new book, Sarkozy gave a big interview to Le Figaro Magazine, in which he spoke not so much about the time of his presidency, but about the events of today.
About the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008
In the interview, Sarkozy credits himself with literally personally “stopping Russian tanks 25 kilometres from Tbilisi” during the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
Sarkozy and the August war
On 12 August 2008, Georgia and Russia, mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, concluded a six-point ceasefire agreement (the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan).
- No resort to the use of force.
- A definitive cessation of all hostilities.
- Free access to humanitarian aid.
- The armed forces of Georgia return to their places of permanent deployment.
- The armed forces of the Russian Federation shall be withdrawn to the line prior to the beginning of hostilities.
- Establishment of international guarantees to ensure stability and security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili refused to sign the sixth point of the plan.
The implementation of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan is interpreted differently by Russia and Georgia. Georgia and Western countries insist on the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Georgia’s internationally recognised territory. Russia claims to have honoured the agreement by withdrawing troops from Georgian towns in the Shida Kartli and Samegrelo regions by 22 August.
However, neither the upper part of Abkhazia’s Kodori Gorge nor the Akhalgori district were controlled by the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides before the war.
But the main contradiction of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan is the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation on 26 August.
In September 2008 Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation.
Apart from Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Syria recognised the independence of the republics.
In an interview, Sarkozy says that “he had deep disagreements with Vladimir Putin” when he became President of the Council of the European Union in 2008: “He launched an invasion of Georgia, I convinced him to withdraw the tanks that were 25 kilometres from Tbilisi”.
This achievement, Sarkozy said, was possible because “Angela Merkel and I knew Putin’s red lines well.” That knowledge later led France and Germany to deny Ukraine and Georgia membership in NATO, despite strong pressure from the United States.
“We didn’t want Putin to sink into the anti-Western paranoia that has long been a temptation for the Russian leadership. The ‘siege of the Kremlin’ complex is an old story. Putin was wrong. What he did was serious and led to failure. But having said that, we need to move on and find a way out. Russia is Europe’s neighbour and will remain so.”
On his support for Ukraine and its prospects for joining NATO and the EU
Excerpts from an interview in which Sarkozy comments on recent developments in Russia and Ukraine, contrary to the mainstream in Western countries, have been widely circulated in the media.
Although the former president recognises the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as illegal, in the interview he chose to say that “this territory was Russian until 1954”, Kiev’s chances of regaining it are illusory, and the fate of “disputed territories” should be decided in referendums under international control.
Sarkozy also warns Europe against accepting Ukraine into the EU and NATO, believing that it should remain “a link between the West and the East.”
“What does it mean to support Ukraine ‘to the very end’? Is it about the return of Donbass? About also taking back Crimea? Or reaching all the way to Moscow? The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a clear violation of international law.
But when we are talking about a territory that was Russian until 1954, and where the majority of the population has always felt Russian, I think a return to the past is illusory. Although I believe that an uncontested referendum, organised under strict control of the international community, is necessary to approve the current state of affairs.”
Negotiations with Putin
Sarkozy, citing his experience of relations with Vladimir Putin, believes that talks with the Kremlin should continue.
“I am told that this is no longer the man I knew, but I am not convinced,” Sarkozy commented, while rebuking Macron for abandoning attempts at dialogue with Putin.
▇ Throughout the interview, Sarkozy avoids mentioning who exactly started the war in Ukraine, and ignores allegations of war crimes committed by the Russian army against civilians in Ukraine.
Not only Macron, but the entire EU, has been criticized by the former French president. Sarkozy believes that in the search for a way out of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict “European interests do not coincide with American interests”.
“Russian agent of influence” – how the interview was reacted to in France
Reaction to Sarkozy’s speech was critical in France. The sharpest was a deputy from the party “Europe. Ecology. Greens” (EELV) Julien Bayou, calling the words of the former president “shocking”, which he “should not have said”.
According to Bayou, Sarkozy should henceforth be regarded as a “Russian agent of influence”, including because of the former president’s dubious ties to the Russian insurance company RESO-Garantia.
The French financial prosecutor’s office began investigating the case in 2021, suspecting that Sarkozy, under the cover of an alleged consulting contract worth three million euros, was engaged in so-called “influence peddling” and lobbied in France for the interests of Russian oligarchs.
Some French media consider other episodes of Sarkozy’s political career during his presidency dubious as well.
Is Sarkozy hoping for the Kremlin’s support?
Several cases have been brought against Sarkozy. One of them is the so-called “Bismuth case”. Sarkozy was accused of trying to influence a judge, and has already been handed a guilty verdict not only in the first, but also in the appeal. The one-year prison sentence and two years of probation that Sarkozy was given is being commuted, according to French law enforcement practice, into a more lenient house arrest.
Two other cases against the former president are pending. First, the story of fake invoices in the financing of the 2012 election campaign and secondly, the so-called “Libyan money” allegedly given to Sarkozy by dictator Muammar Gaddafi on account of their special relationship.
The existence of such a large list of law enforcement claims puts Sarkozy alongside his former colleagues – German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and previous American President Donald Trump. All three are frequently accused of their “special relationship” with Russia.
Against this background, Sarkozy’s pro-Russian rhetoric in his latest interview looks even more risky. The former French president is playing with fire, irritating much of the French press, the political establishment, and French voters.
However, it is probably Sarkozy’s undying tendency to adventurism in politics that pushed him to take a position on the war in Ukraine that is not the most popular in the West today and thus seek support from the Kremlin. It is possible that in the most extreme case Sarkozy really hopes to receive some kind of help from Moscow, if not in money, then at least in temporary shelter.