The French and German leaders declined Wednesday to repeat US President Joe Biden’s accusation that Russia was carrying out “genocide” against Ukrainians, warning that verbal escalations would not help end the war.
Biden had accused Vladimir Putin’s forces on Tuesday of committing genocide in Ukraine, saying it has “become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian”.
But speaking to France 2 television as he ramps up his re-election campaign against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, French President Emmanuel Macron said leaders should be careful with language.
“I would say that Russia unilaterally unleashed the most brutal war, that it is now established that war crimes were committed by the Russian army and that it is now necessary to find those responsible and make them face justice,” Macron said.
“It’s madness what’s happening, it’s incredibly brutal,” he added.
“But at the same time I look at the facts and I want to try as much as possible to continue to be able to stop this war and to rebuild peace. I’m not sure that verbal escalations serve this cause,” he said.
Macron said it was best to be “careful” with the terminology on genocide in these situations, especially as “the Ukrainians and Russians are brotherly peoples”.
– ‘Disappointing‘ –
Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko described Macron’s stance as “disappointing”.
Nikolenko also took issue with the French leader’s claim that Ukrainians and Russians are “brotherly peoples”, saying that this “myth began to crumble in 2014” when Russia annexed Crimea.
There is “no longer any moral or real reason to talk about fraternal ties”, he said.
Biden’s comments were earlier welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly accused Moscow of genocide since the invasion was launched on February 24.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday also spoke of war crimes in Ukraine but steered clear of mentioning genocide.
“This is a terrible war in Eastern Europe. And I think that’s what shouldn’t be minimised,” Scholz told German radio RBB.
“War crimes are being committed,” he added.
The German chancellor also clarified that he did not intend to travel to Ukraine in the near future, though he was in regular contact with Zelensky. Scholz visited the country in late February, before the Russian invasion.
The comments by Macron, who has kept dialogue going with Putin during the conflict, echo concerns the French leader expressed last month after Biden called Putin a “butcher”.
In his interview with France 2, Macron indicated he would be holding new telephone talks with both Putin and Zelensky in the coming days.