Macron defends Russia dialogue and slams ‘mistaken morality’ seeking to stop him

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron defended his continued diplomatic efforts and telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine, slamming criticism of his efforts as “mistaken morality.”

Speaking to French ambassadors gathered at the Elysée Palace on Thursday, Macron questioned the decision in western capitals to close lines of communication with the Kremlin.

“The job of a diplomat is to talk to everybody and particularly to the people we disagree with,” he said at his yearly address on foreign policy. “Who wants Turkey to be the only world power that is talking to Russia? … We must not give in to any form of mistaken morality that would seek to weaken us.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has a difficult relationship with Macron, has been seeking to cast himself as a mediator over the Ukraine war, meeting both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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Macron has remained committed to his diplomatic efforts with Russia and spoke to the Russian president on August 19, following a period of silence. The conversation focused on safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The French president’s endeavors came under fire from NATO allies, particularly in Eastern Europe, who questioned the utility of his conversations with Putin. Macron’s comments that Russia “should not be humiliated” to prepare for a future diplomatic exit ramp also sparked a wave of condemnation and raised suspicions he was willing to make concessions to Russia. The Elysée has repeatedly denied such claims.

During his speech on Thursday, Macron slammed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an “imperialist” war and insisted “Russia cannot be allowed to win the war.”

“We want to work towards either a victory for Ukraine or a negotiated peace reached with conditions that are acceptable to Ukraine,” he said.

One of the main threads of Macron’s wide-ranging foreign affairs speech to ambassadors was that the world was increasingly at risk of becoming divided into different blocs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

“We have never been dependent on any world power. We have always kept our independence. But now will we be forced to choose?” he asked.

Macron argued in favor of maintaining French and European “independence” in the confrontation between the U.S. and China, in order to continue discussions on climate change and regional issues.

“[Independence] doesn’t mean equal treatment. The U.S. are our allies. But we don’t want to depend on them,” he said.

He also cautioned against letting splits emerge among EU members in the face of the Russian aggression and amid warnings the energy crisis and rising inflation could lead to divisions.

“We must not let Europe be divided by this war. European unity is key. The division of Europe was one of Russia’s aim of the war,” he said.