French President François Hollande warned that in absence of a long-term agreement on the Ukrainian conflict, “it (would be) called war.” These words were apparently not pronounced in a hurry or because of emotion, they would have resulted from a months-long diplomatic and intelligence effort jointly carried out by France and Germany.
The military situation in eastern Ukraine was making one fear a likely hardening of the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s ambition to territorially link up Crimea and the Russian Federation might have triggered a chain reaction of “total war” on behalf of the Ukrainian government, therefore likely starting a large-scale Russian military operation with “definitive” objectives aimed at “terminating” all “resistance” from Ukraine long before NATO and the United States could ever react militarily. Remember that Ukraine does not belong to NATO and that its invasion by Russian conventional troops would not be considered an aggression against the vital interests of the United States, France or the United Kingdom; the three countries have nuclear weapons.
Consequently the article 5 of NATO’s collective response couldn’t have been applied. United States’ project of delivering lethal weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces in addition to the military threat and the growing cost for Europe of the western sanctions against Russia would have prompted the French government to speed up the diplomatic process as soon as December 2014 when Hollande paid Putin a surprise visit. From that meeting was decided the holding of a Normandy format summit in Minsk that gathered the heads of State of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. A number of analysts believe the Ukrainian issue cannot be solved definitively without a direct participation of the United States. Actually the Russian government clearly favored a strictly European solution, backed by France which thought the future of Europe should rather be decided by Europe herself.
Even though there is coordination with Washington, Paris and Berlin seem to favor a strategic vision that is more realistic than the usual clichés spread through the public opinion. With a cumulated population of 145 million people that is equal to Russia’s, Germany and France aren’t indeed a conventional military force as strong as Russia’s but their cumulated GDP is three times as big as Russia’s. If one adds the “deterrent and equalizing factor” of the French nuclear force de frappe and the fact that France is the world’s second most capable country of sending military forces abroad, Hollande and his German counterpart Angela Merkel could have deduced that they can talk to Putin as equals.
If the Minsk Accord is not a guarantee that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has ended, it looks like a revelation of a joint French-German ambition to retake Europe’s fate in hand, besides motivated by the United States’ ongoing strategic rebalancing to Asia.