Jacques Faure is a former French Ambassador to Kyiv as well as former French Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, and has years of experience in both the Ukraine-Russia and Armenia-Azerbaijan wars. Now an honorary minister plenipotentiary, Faure reexamines two neo-imperialist wars which pit a democracy against an autocracy.
Gaidz Minassian: The war in Ukraine will soon enter its ninth month. What are your thoughts on this war of aggression?
Jacques Faure: The so-called “special military operation” which the Russian president launched against independent Ukraine at dawn on February 24, is a war of aggression that has entered its eighth year. It started with the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s orchestration of fighting in Donbas, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine which Russia already guaranteed by signing the following accords:
– The 1994 Budapest protocol which stipulated the transfer of Ukraine’s massive nuclear arsenal to Russia following the collapse of the USSR -– a pledge that Kyiv honored.
– The 1997 agreement around the Soviet-era Black Sea fleet based in the Sevastopol naval base, which saw its lion’s share transferred to Russia and a small part given to Ukraine. Ukraine also allowed Russia to use the base until 2017 as well as to station up to 20,000 personnel in Ukrainian Crimea.
– The 2010 agreement in which Ukrainian President Yanukovich agreed to prolong the Sevastopol lease agreement until 2044 in exchange for lower Russian gas prices for Ukraine. Yanukovich even agreed to declare that Ukraine would not join any “blocs”, demonstrating that it represented no security or strategic threat to Russia. Still, Ukraine remained independent and looked to the European Union, the United States, Canada and the West, which, for Russia and for Putin, was unacceptable.
GM: While serving as French ambassador in Kyiv, did you get the feeling that the war was inevitable or did you see a diplomatic solution to the conflict?
Jacques Faure: My post in Kyiv was from 2008 to 2011. I returned to Kyiv in 2013 and again in 2014 as part of my work for the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict when Ukraine assumed the rotating presidency of the OSCE. Between 2008 and 2011, internal political problems (a difficult cohabitation between then-president Yushchenko and Prime Minister Timoshenko as well as the 2010 election of President Yanukovich) but also the economic difficulties and tense relations with Russia (the 2009 “Gas War”) consumed the chancellery’s attention. Russia’s war on Georgia in 2008 provoked much anxiety since naval vessels from the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, including the missile cruiser Moskva, participated in the hostilities despite Ukrainian authorities not being notified about the movements of Russian vessels in accordance with the 1997 treaty.
It was really after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the launch of hostilities in Donbas that the gears towards war went into motion, despite constant efforts deployed by France and its Western partners through the 2014 Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 accords. In particular, the constant obstruction of Moscow and the Donbas separatists to the deployment of the OSCE mission in the conflict zones left little doubt about their desire to reach a negotiated agreement.
GM: What kind of diplomatic mechanisms can we conceive of to find a resolution to this war? What conditions need to be put in place to go from war to diplomacy?
Jacques Faures: Diplomacy requires contact with the entirety of parties on any issue in any conflict. In this sense, the French President’s expressed desire to maintain diplomatic channels with the aggressor while still clearly expressing its support for the entity under attack seems entirely legitimate to me. Still, a compromise that is acceptable to all parties is only possible when negotiations are made in good faith. I’ve had multiple opportunities to observe that this is not always the case, especially when contrived historical narratives fuelling hatred pollute any possibility of reaching an agreement. Moreover a prerequisite to a compromise is the abandonment of any discourse denying the right to existence and equal dignity of the adversary.
GM: As a former ambassador, and former French Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with establishing peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, you’re in a good position to analyze both conflicts. What links do you see between the war in Ukraine, and that between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Jacques Faure: All conflicts are preceded by, and maintained, by contradictory narratives which both sides embody and repeat. But narrative wars cannot deny the fact that every conflict is between an aggressor and an attacked entity. This is also the case for both conflicts. Both also shed light on the fact that no rewriting of history would be enough to justify the equal right for any people and any state to live in peace, with respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, principles that the UN Charter guarantees. The alternative is the law of the jungle. Disputes and boundary changes by force are not acceptable. Another point connects these conflicts: the struggle between different worldviews –– between the belief in the benefits of progress and democracy and the unhealthy and retrograde fascination with autocracy and imperialism.
GM: What is your assessment of the OSCE Minsk Group’s actions around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, knowing that the November 9, 2020 agreement ending the war excluded the organization from negotiations. Is the Minsk Group dead?
Jacques Faure: Every negotiating body charged with the resolution of a conflict takes on the risk of displeasing the parties involved. With Nagorno-Karabakh, the Minsk Group was able to preserve an admittedly fragile and too-often-bereaved peace for decades. This result was not displeasing to the populations who lived near the line of contact, people who lived in insecurity, the weight of which they felt every day. Each time we wanted to lighten [that burden]. The organization also developed specific elements of a negotiated solution, which was proposed to the parties and required each side to make concessions. We tried in vain to convince them of the usefulness of these measures and we came up against unreasonable extremism or thinly veiled intentions of revenge. Moreover, the functioning of the OSCE is based on the principle of unanimity. It is easy for a single member state to oppose it knowing that certain member states wanted to be judge and party to the conflict.
GM: What did you think of President Macron’s initiatives and statements regarding the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, particularly in Prague and during his last intervention on France 2, on October 12, 2022?
Jacques Faure: The French President’s actions, which brought together the Azerbaijani President and Armenian Prime Minister in Prague, testifies to the uninterrupted nature of the search for peace demonstrated both by France and the continued efforts of the Minsk Group.
GM: Shouldn’t the status of Nagorno-Karabakh be a priority for the Minsk Group? Or at least, for French diplomacy?
Jacques Faure: Every successive French president since the Minsk Group came into being has expressed their constant engagement in favor of a negotiated solution to the conflict. The current president’s actions are yet another demonstration of this resolve.
GM: Why is it so difficult to name the aggressor in this conflict while world powers have so many tools at their disposal to dissuade Baku from engaging in aggressive acts against Armenians with total impunity?
Jacques Faure: It should be understood that a mediation group, created with the consent of the parties to the conflict, cannot publicly pronounce the guilt of any one side, without immediately bringing about the end of the negotiation process. Macron, however, never refrained from doing so during the interviews he had with the parties to the conflict, which had an impact on the relations maintained with each of them.
As for the use of possible satellite images prior to the outbreak of an armed attack, this question applies above all to states with defense agreements with the parties to the conflict. Did they share this information?
GM: What should we expect from the current European mission on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, with the knowledge that the CSTO might also deploy its own observation mission?
Jacques Faure: This European mission will fulfill its role if it enjoys full access to the areas it is responsible for. It is important to recall here, once again, this has not been the case for the OSCE mission in Donbas since 2014. As for the possibility of another mission which could be deployed by the CSTO, it should be recalled that the OSCE/ODHIR missions sometimes have to cohabit with monitoring groups sent by Russia or CIS states. This in no way alters the control and judgment rendered by our missions.