“To be honest with you, I wanted to go play ice hockey. There, I’m talking to you from the gym, ”replies Vladimir Poutine to Emmanuel Macron who has just offered him a summit meeting with Joe Biden. This surreal end of telephone exchange takes place four days before the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. The nine minutes of conversation, as original as they are fascinating, are at the heart of the documentary A President, Europe and War, signed Guy Lagache, which tells the diplomatic backstage of the last six months at the Élysée and will be broadcast on France 2 Thursday June 30th.
Sunday morning February 20, the camera stops on the diplomatic adviser to the president, Emmanuel Bonne, surrounded by three collaborators, in his office at 2, rue de l’Élysée. The French president, who went a few days earlier to Moscow and kyiv, began a last-ditch mediation to try to prevent war. The four members of the Élysée’s diplomatic cell remotely follow the telephone exchange of their “boss” with the master of the Kremlin.
Emmanuel Macron appears firm, offensive, a bit peremptory, even brittle. Vladimir Putin does not let go, gets annoyed. “Listen to me carefully,” he calls out to her. Behind some Russian expressions of politeness, irony, even cynicism is never far away. The French president initiates the conversation, without detour. “I would like you to first give me your reading of the situation and perhaps quite directly, as we both do, tell me what your intentions are.” “What could I say?” You see yourself what’s going on,” retorts Vladimir Putin, referring to the Minsk agreements supposed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been operating since the annexation of Ukraine. Crimea by Russia in 2014. He accuses Volodymyr Zelensky of having said he wanted to acquire nuclear weapons. “No, whatever,” comments Emmanuel Bonne. “In fact our dear colleague, Mr. Zelensky, does nothing [to enforce them]. He’s lying to you,” attacks Putin, according to the translation of the documentary, when referring to the Ukrainian president.
The master of the Kremlin accuses his French counterpart of wanting to “revise the agreements” and asks that the peace proposals of the separatists be taken into account. Emmanuel Macron protests against the demonstration of his interlocutor. “I don’t know where your lawyer learned the law. Me, I just look at the texts and try to apply them! “Vladimir Putin returns to the charge, deplores that the separatists are not heard. “We don’t give a damn about the separatists’ proposals!” “slice the French president, adding that they are not provided for in the agreement.
Emmanuel Macron finally arrives at the goal of his appeal, to convince Vladimir Poutine to accept a meeting with the American Joe Biden in Geneva to attempt a de-escalation at the top. Vladimir Putin is not very excited, even less about the idea of setting a date. “Above all else, you have to prepare for this meeting in advance,” he insists. Emmanuel Macron ends up snatching an “agreement in principle” from him. In the process, the Elysée will announce an upcoming Biden-Putin summit, which will not take place. “We stay in touch in real time. As soon as there is something, you call me ”, slips him in the end Emmanuel Macron. “Thank you, Mr. President,” Putin concludes in French.
Four days later, the report will be bitter. “We didn’t convince him, he invaded Ukraine,” Emmanuel Macron says, unvarnished, in front of Guy Lagache’s camera. “I thought that we could find through trust, intellectual discussion, a way with Putin,” he said on June 16, on the train bringing him back from a visit to Volodymyr Zelensky. With the abuses committed by the Russian army, particularly in Boutcha, an “irreversible” step has been taken on the moral level, he says. “I then spoke to him much less again…”