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This article in LeMonde - Sarkozy criticized for call to compromise with Russia - states that the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a strong advocate of Ukraine being neutral:

France's former president suggested the war in Ukraine could be ended with referendums in occupied territories ... Ukraine should remain "neutral" and had no place in the EU or NATO.

Obviously this is a very contrary, and unpopular, stand to the majority of Europe (and the west). What are the political arguments made by him for Ukraine to remain neutral between EU / NATO and Russia?

(Apparently he stated this in an interview, where he has perhaps elaborated his views. However, the interview is paywalled and in French, which I do not know and can't access.)

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    I'll vote to close on "no mind reading clause", assuming that's just what Nicholas Sarkozy believes.
    – alamar
    Dec 17, 2023 at 14:25
  • For context, it's worth noting that Sarkozy has been convicted for corruption several times and sentenced to prison. So he is corruptible, and also he's probably trying to give himself an image of expert in foreign affairs in order to make people forget this. The irony about this is that he's advising Ukraine to stay out of NATO even though he's the one who made France a part of it.
    – Erwan
    Dec 17, 2023 at 14:32
  • @alamar What "mind reading"? I am not asking why he believes something, I am asking what he has he said publicly about a specific subject in his (french) interview(s) and book.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 18:46
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    @Erwan Ok. Sarkozy is evil, corrupt, stupid etc. and I won't believe anything he says. Now please tell me what he has actually said on the subject!?
    – sfxedit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 18:53
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    @Erwan I tried to find the info on this in the western media outlets, and noticed a similar pattern - they all spend more time in the article outlining his political history, corruption charges and bashing him, rather than reporting what he was actually saying. That is why I mentioned all that in the question itself and asked all of you to ignore it as that isn't pertinent to the question - I just want to know what he has said.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:16

4 Answers 4

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This is because he thinks that the situation he describes as a solution for Ukraine (no EU, no Nato, Russia officially gets occupied territories) is stable and will not result Russia, after declaring obviously the victory, to advance further into one or another Nato country as the next step.

The ex-president insisted that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was "not irrational"

This is the key difference in the opinions. The common point of view of the "collective West" is, there is no reason to assume Vladimir Putin is "not irrational" as similar agreements have once already been broken. Russia will just rebuild the army and then may strike again. Notably Joe Biden said Putin would attack NATO if he won in Ukraine.

Where is the truth? Matter of opinion. V. Putin insists risks from Russia are the "complete nonsense". He was telling the same days before starting the attack on Ukraine.

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    @sfxedit The argument is more than just whether Putin is irrational or not. Sarkozy says that if Putin/ Russia gets part of the Ukraine they will be satisfied and not attack any further. The majority view among western politicians seems to be that a temporary peace will only lead to Russia rebuilding their army for the next attack.
    – quarague
    Dec 17, 2023 at 13:31
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    Somehow a lot of leaders seemed to believe that Russia would have enough after they took Crimea in 2014. Believing the same now seems just foolish, though it would be calming to be able to think so.
    – jpa
    Dec 17, 2023 at 18:48
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    TBH that's not a terribly coherent quote. One can well hold that Putin invading or not invading other countries are both rational moves. It just depends what Putin's ultimate motivation for doing so is held to be. Framing the discussion in terms of the false dichotomy around rationality is missing a lot. It would be more sensible to discuss e.g. if Putin is Machiavellic. Dec 18, 2023 at 8:27
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    "to advance further into one or another Nato country as the next step." This whole Russia will attack a NATO country fearmongering is in my frank opinion one of the most ridiculous things I hear and it is obviously a thinly veiled excuse to continue fueling a proxy war. I mean I simply cannot fathom what country would be suicidal enough to attack a NATO country when they full well knows what that entails. At that point I suppose they could just skip to the part where they directly attack USA and UK because that's what it will eventually come down to.
    – TonyStark
    Dec 18, 2023 at 15:48
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    @Stančikas Russia would have to be absolutely batshit insane (which they are not, no matter how much people like to believe) to wage any sort of war on a NATO country considering how difficult and costly Ukraine has proved, how depleted they are and how little they will gain if at all while also risking a nuclear war. The math doesn't math for Russia to attack any NATO country and this is why I think it's deliberate fearmongering to keep fueling the war that West is party responsible for. I mean go on reddit and Americans are no longer even subtle about it.
    – TonyStark
    Dec 18, 2023 at 19:16
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Since TASS relished in quoting more from him (contents which was every easy to find, BTW, and not paywalled at all), here's what they did quote:

"I believe that the world and Europe are dancing on the edge of a volcano. It could spiral out of control at any moment. Enough people have already died. I believe that the path of diplomacy and discussions has not been fully utilized. It should be used now."

The former president pointed out that this is a conflict "with the world's largest nuclear power in the heart of Europe." In this regard, the ex-president lamented that in France it is currently impossible to debate Ukraine without being accused of supporting Russia, similar to the taboo on discussing other sensitive topics, such as immigration and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Sarkozy called for a halt to calls to "buy weapons, ammunition, tanks," and stated that a solution must be found that takes into account both the interests of Ukraine and the fact that "Russia is not going anywhere."

"What’s needed is to sit down at the negotiating table, provide guarantees to Ukraine, and also engage in a discussion about how else to get out of this situation without having to choose between Ukraine and Russia, and to ensure that it does not happen again," Sarkozy said. According to him, the question of Ukraine joining NATO "will only worsen the situation."

"There are two ways to win a war: either you overpower the enemy, or you talk to them and find a compromise," he said. "I hear that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is being called Hitler, but if that's the case, we should go look for him in Moscow. And if not, we should talk. You can only reconcile with your enemies. If you reconcile with your friends, you won't find a solution."

TLDR: he's claiming that Russia/Putin could resort to nukes at any moment. Which you may or may not find jibing well with the other answer about "irrationality".

Anyhow, the issue of NATO negotiating with Russia was kinda tried mostly before the full scale invasion but also since in re guarantees to Ukraine. The issue IMHO is not whether that was tried but what compromises both sides are willing to make. Last time Russia formally advanced a set of demands to NATO they were pretty high, but that was before the full scale invasion.

Anyhow, NYT had a somewhat different quote from Sarkozy (oddly enough not carried by TASS, although that said something surely pleasing to Russia, given that they make similar demands):

“People tell me Vladimir Putin isn’t the same man that I met. I don’t find that convincing. I’ve had tens of conversations with him. He is not irrational,” he told Le Figaro. “European interests aren’t aligned with American interests this time,” he added.

The NYT only provides a partial quote for the next part and paraphrases the rest:

He urged Mr. Macron, with whom he regularly confers, to “renew dialogue” with Mr. Putin, called for the “ratification” of Crimea’s annexation through an internationally supervised referendum, and said referendums should also be organized in the eastern Donbas region to settle how land there is divided between Ukraine and Russia. Rather than occupied territory, the Donbas is clearly negotiable territory to Mr. Sarkozy; as for Crimea, it’s part of Russia.

It's a bit odd that organizing another referendum in Crimea is even necessary if "it’s part of Russia", but maybe something was lost in translation (or paraphrase) there.

Politico quoted something a bit similar, but with someone else being blamed for swaying Macron:

Sarkozy distanced himself from Macron’s stance on Ukraine, saying that Macron’s earlier “intuition was right” but he failed to follow up, in part “due to pressure from eastern Europeans.”

So, combining those quotes, Sarkozy seems to see the situation similar to the war in Iraq, when the US and the Eastern Europeans had their visions more aligned (with each other) than the continental Western Europe had with either.

It would be interesting if Sarkozy made a (FM) comeback a la Cameron, but that doesn't look in the cards, under Macron. NYT again:

Mr. Macron responded to Mr. Sarkozy by saying their positions were different and that France “recognizes neither the annexation by Russian of Ukrainian territory, nor the results of parodies of elections that were organized.”

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  • Interestingly enough, Sarkozy didn't seem to make any explicit analogies with Iraq, perhaps because of his different approach to Libya politico.eu/article/sarkozy-goes-to-war Dec 18, 2023 at 13:32
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    I think what people do not understand about nukes is how stuff spirals out of control instead of coming out of blue. Imagine that some NATO member security becomes critically endangered because of Ukrainian situation development (e.g. Poland-Lithuania border), then some US air carrier fleets appear where Russia does not want to see those, and then some maritime nukes fly, followed by good old MAD.
    – alamar
    Dec 18, 2023 at 13:32
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In this article by Le Monde (French), Sarkozy is quoted saying:

Quant à l’adhésion de l’Ukraine à l’Union européenne ou à l’OTAN, après la fin du conflit, l’ancien chef de l’Etat l’exclut. Pour lui, l’Ukraine devrait être « neutre » car elle a « vocation de pont entre l’Europe et la Russie ». « Demander à l’Ukraine de choisir entre ces deux entités me paraît contraire à l’histoire et la géographie de cette région si complexe », conclut l’ancien président.

Translation:

As for Ukraine joining the European Union or NATO after the end of the conflict, the former head of state rules this out. For him, Ukraine should be "neutral", as its "vocation is to act as a bridge between Europe and Russia". "Asking Ukraine to choose between these two entities seems to me contrary to the history and geography of this complex region", concludes the former president.

This argument is not especially convincing (do countries really have to follow their "vocation"?), but it's clear that Sarkozy's rationale is based on finding a compromise that Russia could accept.

For the record, he has been criticized and accused of being bought by Putin for expressing this position.

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    I see it as an example of ukrainization of French politics where every ex-president is a corrupt Russia sympathizer but a new one is just great, repeat.
    – alamar
    Dec 18, 2023 at 16:44
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    @alamar not really, because Sarkozy was actually found guilty of corruption in multiple cases during or after his presidency (unrelated to Russia). Other former French presidents, e.g. Hollande, haven't.
    – Erwan
    Dec 18, 2023 at 18:41
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Someone shared the original and complete interview with me where Nicolas Sarkozy advocated for Ukraine neutrality . The following are the the relevant English translated excerpt from the original French interview:

LE FIGARO MAGAZINE. - Some of the battles you have experienced bring us closer to immediate history. In 2008, you partially succeeded in reasoning with Vladimir Putin. Today, he doesn't want to hear anything…

Failure comes from afar. It is centuries old. And here I would like to pay tribute to Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, who has sadly passed away. She was a great transmitter of Russian history for forty years. But I come back to your question. Russians are Slavs. They are different from us. The discussion is always difficult and has given rise to a lot of misunderstandings in our common history. Despite this, we need them and they need us. I have had deep disagreements with Vladimir Putin, and I took up my responsibilities in 2008, when I was President of the Council of Heads of State and Government of the European Union.

I convinced him to withdraw his tanks, which were 25 kilometers from Tbilisi. He had begun to invade Georgia. But at the same time, together with Angela Merkel, we showed her that we were aware of her red lines. That is why we refused to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO, despite strong American pressure. We didn't want to let Putin drift into the anti-Western paranoia that has long been the temptation of Russian leaders. The Kremlin's encirclement complex is an old story. Putin was wrong. What he has done is serious and results in failure. But once you've said that, you have to move forward and find a way out. Russia is Europe's neighbour and will remain so.

President Macron tried at first, and he was led by the nose...

President Macron's intuition was correct. Unfortunately, it did not come to fruition, not least because of pressure from Eastern European countries. I am told that Vladimir Putin is no longer the one I once knew. I am not convinced. I've had dozens of conversations with him. He is not irrational. We must therefore take the risk of breaking this deadlock, because on this issue European interests are not aligned with American interests.

One cannot stick to the strange idea of "waging war without making it." We will be forced to clarify our strategy, especially if this war were to last. Diplomacy, discussion and exchange remain the only means of finding an acceptable solution. Without compromise, nothing will be possible, and we run the risk of things escalating at any moment. This powder keg could have dreadful consequences.

Allies say they will support Ukraine "to the end". Are they right?

The words are strong and definitive. But what does “to the end" mean? Is it about recovering Donbass? To also take back Crimea? Or go all the way to Moscow? The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a clear violation of international law. But when it comes to this territory, which was Russian until 1954 and where a majority of the population has always felt Russian, I think that any turning back is illusory; Even if I believe that an indisputable referendum, that is to say one organized under the strict control of the international community, will be necessary to ratify the current state of affairs.

And for the rest? That is, for the disputed territories of eastern and southern Ukraine? Much will depend on how the situation on the ground develops. The Ukrainians, and this is quite normal, will seek to reconquer what has been unjustly taken from them. But if they do not succeed completely, the choice will then be between a frozen conflict – which we know will inevitably lead to a new hot conflict tomorrow – or a way out from the top by resorting, once again, to referendums strictly supervised by the international community, to settle these territorial questions in a definitive and transparent manner.

You say – and you are the only one to dare to use this word that makes Volodymyr Zelensky jump – that Ukraine should neither join the European Union nor NATO, that it should "remain neutral". But isn't Putin doing everything he can to push Ukraine into the arms of Europe?

First of all, we need to agree on what Ukraine's [geostrategic] position is. Joining the European Union? I don't think so. Ukraine is a link between West and East. It has to stay that way. False promises are being made that will not be kept. Just like the ones that have been made to Turkey for decades.

Not only because Ukraine is not ready and does not meet the criteria for membership. But because it must remain a neutral country. I do not see how this neutrality would be an insult. It could also be guaranteed by an international agreement providing for extremely strong security assurances to protect it against any risk of further aggression.

It shocks those in Europe who consider Ukraine to be European and is paying a high price for it…

I can understand them, but you have to be consistent and, above all, be realistic. Ukraine is a bridge between Europe and Russia. Asking Ukraine to choose between these two entities seems to me to be contrary to the history and geography of this very complex region. And it would be naïve to believe that the fall of Vladimir Putin would change anything.

Why is it so hard to say that? Many politicians think so, but they don't want to say it. Probably starting with Emmanuel Macron…

The political debate now reacts only by impulses and reflexes in the face of images that shock and erase all in-depth reflections. Just as was the case with the condemnation of nuclear energy at the time of Fukushima. As we now know, Fukushima was not a nuclear accident. But a tsunami of unprecedented violence buried a nuclear power plant and caused 22,000 deaths and disappearances as a result of the natural disaster. There has been only one death from radioactive contamination.

When I recalled this before the National Assembly's commission of inquiry to establish the reasons for France's loss of sovereignty and energy independence, no one could dispute it. Because of this, Germany gave up nuclear power, and France almost abandoned it. This is the risk of not having debate. You have to let the emotion fall. And acknowledge the mistakes made after the fact. It's never anyone's fault. The rule has become one of media posturing and generalized irresponsibility. This is not progress for democracy.

(Translation done using Google, Bing and Yandex online translation services, with some minor grammar edits by me. It may be imperfect.).

(I am trying to find what he has said about this subject in other interviews and his book too and will accordingly update the post).

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