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French Ambassador offers support to Ireland ahead of 'unhelpful, not welcome' Russian exercise

French Ambassador Vincent Guérend spoke to The Journal about his country’s perspective on the Russian exercise.

French Ambassador Vincent Guérend.
French Ambassador Vincent Guérend.
Image: French Embassy in Ireland

THE FRENCH AMBASSADOR to Ireland has said the Russian naval tests off Ireland are “unhelpful, not welcome” and offered his country’s support to Ireland. 

Vincent Guérend spoke to The Journal about the security concerns of the French Government around the Irish coast.

The French coast is the nearest mainland European country to the test location – they are also our closest EU state. 

The Ambassador has said that Ireland and his Government’s diplomatic ties are presently at their strongest. 

Guérend said that French naval and air force were actively monitoring the Russian movements and had noticed an increase in activity in recent weeks in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and in general around Europe.  

He said that the French embassy had received word on Sunday that the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney would raise the Russian activity in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council.

Guérend said the Dublin Embassy immediately began working with their colleagues in Paris to support the Irish Government. 

“We fully support Ireland’s stance on the matter. And we believe, and you can certainly quote me, that these exercises, if they are indeed rolled out they will be unhelpful.

“Particularly, in the current circumstances [Ukraine tensions], and more generally, we have underlined [the need] for dialogue and transparency and previsibility [foresight] of military activities in Europe through the OSCE which is the frame where dialogue on all military treaties and conventional treaties should take place,” he said.

The French and other NATO member states have issued a number of demands to the Russian Government in the wake of the threat of invasion of Ukraine. 

One key area of the demand is a greater “transparency” by Vladimir Putin’s Government in regard to the activities of his military.  

Increased patrols

Guérend said that the French military has increased patrols off their Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean where Russian vessels have been spotted. 

Critically the French Ambassador revealed that his country’s forces have witnessed a marked increase in Russian military movements in European waters including “quasi-civilian ships”.

“We also have observed some more intense Russian maritime activity around the French coast recently.

“If you look at the French Navy tweet thread, we deliberately tweeted some videos of the exchanges between our Navy patrols and Russian vessels which are sometimes civilian or quasi-civilian Russian vessels, which in our view, requires some questions.

“And so we are very much raising our guards, because we believe this situation requires it. And so we very much understand how the Irish Government feels in this regard. And again, we fully support you,” he added. 

The French navy has joined with a German naval ship to carry out joint patrols.

Guérend also spoke about the French view on Ukraine and how the response to any Russian incursion must be EU wide.

The ambassador also said there does not need to be a physical incursion but that any attack on Ukraine should elicit a European wide response.  

“More generally, of course, we believe that both NATO and the EU Member States should continue to give utmost attention to the ongoing developments at the border between Ukraine and Russia and at the border of Ukraine with other neighbours.

“That’s something which continues to focus our utmost attention. And as you know, the EU line is very clear on the matter regarding any encroachment on the Ukrainian territorial integrity or indeed sovereignty,” he added. 

The Ambassador said that sovereignty did not just mean a physical invasion but “any attempt to destabilise the government”. He said any such action would have major “consequences for Russia” which would include sanctions.

Neutrality

The Journal asked the Ambassador about France’s opinion of Ireland’s commitment to neutrality. 

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“Of course I know that’s kind of a burning question for many of us diplomats. And the Irish neutrality, is something which we observed with a lot of interest, sometimes intrigued, sometimes impressed by the way you have also evolved around this neutrality,” he said. 

Guérend said that he does not believe Ireland should join Nato but instead should focus on a commitment to assist in European security. 

“I don’t think that Ireland should almost accede to Nato. But I think indeed, that the world we live in today is probably more challenging than 20 years ago, 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. 

The Ambassador said that the physical barrier of the sea around Ireland was not enough to protect the State. 

He also said that the threat environment has changed considerably in the last 30 to 40 years and it features the potential for hybrid attacks which include cyber attacks.  

“EU, as a whole should raise its awareness and raise its capability to withstand external threats. So this, in our view, of course, applies to all member states,” he added. 

french-and-greek-navy-joint-exercise-eastern-mediterranean French Navy's helicopter carrier Tonnerre and frigate La Fayette, take part in a joint exercise with the Greek navy off the island of Kastellorizo on August 13, 2020. Source: ABACA/PA Images

Macron talks

On Wednesday there were more than eight hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Paris.

Reports stated that the meetings were “difficult” but sent a “good signal”, an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron told AFP.

Describing the discussions as an opportunity “to test Russia’s desire to negotiate”, the aide told reporters: “In the current circumstances, we received a good signal.”

On Tuesday Macron said he would hold talks with Vladimir Putin on Ukraine on Friday.

“I will have telephone talks with the president on Friday morning,” Macron said alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, saying the talks would be part of a “demanding dialogue” with Russia and provide the chance to gain “clarification” over Moscow’s Ukraine strategy.

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