Russia Ukraine conflict

‘This is total war’: France says Putin wants to remove Ukraine ‘off map of nations’

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to destroy Ukraine’s statehood and warned that the “security” of its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was at risk.

“This is total war. Putin has decided... to take Ukraine off the map of nations,” Le Drian told France Inter radio.

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“The Donbas issue is just a pretext,” he said, referring to the area of eastern Ukraine that is partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

“What Putin wants is Ukraine’s submission, and he will pursue his offensive until the end,” he added.

“President Zelensky’s security is a central element of all that's happening,” he said, adding: “We are ready to help him if necessary.”

But Le Drian refused to be drawn on whether such help could extend to an exfiltration of the president from Ukraine.

Zelensky had said early Friday that he and his family remained in Ukraine, despite Russia identifying him as “target number one.”

Le Drian said France was also “worried” about a possible Russian military offensive against Moldova and Georgia, two other ex-Soviet states.

He denounced “a Russian drift toward interference” in other countries, noting Putin’s repeated insistence of his country’s alleged historical grievances since the fall of the Soviet Union.

French officials have warned that the crisis could quickly escalate along NATO’s eastern flank, warning that Putin could also test the West’s resolve by seeking to take control of the breakaway region of Transnistria, which has declared independence from Moldova, or other former Soviet territories.

Lithuania, a Baltic state that is now a member of the NATO defense alliance, on Thursday decreed a state of emergency after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin is reinventing history. He wants to rebuild an empire, demonstrate his power by all means,” Le Drian said.

“This is a new reality. This is no longer like during the Cold War, because then there was no war. What's new is that this is war in the heart of Europe,” he said.

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