The surprise was well guarded: Catherine Colonna, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, traveled to kyiv on Monday, May 30, for the first visit to the Ukrainian capital by a French leader since the outbreak of the invasion Russian. Neither Emmanuel Macron, yet eagerly awaited, nor Ms. Colonna’s predecessor, Jean-Yves Le Drian, have made the trip since the start of hostilities on February 24, unlike many of their European counterparts. A little over a week after taking office, the head of diplomacy wished to “demonstrate France’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people and its full determination to strengthen its support for Ukraine in the face of to Russian aggression “both on the humanitarian, financial and military levels, the Quai d’Orsay said in the early morning.

Arriving by train in the Ukrainian capital, after a flight from Paris to the Polish airport of Rzeszow, Ms. Colonna first saluted “the memory of the victims of war” in the martyred city of Boutcha, where civilians murdered by the Russian troops were discovered at the end of March, when they abandoned the surroundings of kyiv, which they occupied in their vain attempt to take control of the capital. Paris then dispatched a team of investigators to the scene, in order to shed light on these alleged war crimes, in conjunction with the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office. An initiative that has contributed to the identification of some victims, explained the mayor of the city to Ms. Colonna.

The minister was to hand over to the Ukrainian authorities a little later civil security equipment, fire trucks and ambulances, transported in recent weeks from France.

Tight relationships

The head of French diplomacy was also due to meet in the early afternoon with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, before meeting the president, Volodymyr Zelensky. This trip comes as relations have become strained in recent weeks between Paris and kyiv, despite regular contacts at the highest level. In April, after the atrocities of Boutcha, the Ukrainian leaders were initially surprised that Emmanuel Macron did not endorse, unlike the American president, Joe Biden, the accusations of “genocide” perpetrated according to them by the Russians, additionally described as “brother people” of Ukraine by the Head of State.

kyiv then reacted harshly to the project of “European political community” proposed by Emmanuel Macron, on May 9 in Strasbourg, prompting the Elysée to hammer home, since, that it is not a question of a substitute for membership in the European Union (EU). French officials had to explain that the device sought to “attach” to the Union the countries aspiring to join it, without precipitating an enlargement likely to last “several decades” for Ukraine, according to the Elysée. According to our information, kyiv in fact conditions the establishment of this kind of “confederation” on obtaining, by the end of June, the status of candidate for the EU. While Central and Eastern European countries plead for rapid enlargement, Germany is reserved about the status – the first formal step before possible accession negotiations. An opinion from the European Commission is expected by June 15. As for France, it is committed to discussing the issue by the European Council on June 23 and 24.

During her talks in kyiv, Catherine Colonna was also to address the blocking of Ukrainian grain exports due to the fighting and the Russian blockade of the Black Sea ports, including that of Odessa. The question is the subject of delicate and discreet negotiations between Russians and Ukrainians, under the aegis of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. Together, these two countries represent a third of the world’s wheat production, and the war carries the threat of a very serious food crisis.

Grain convoys

The idea would be to organize support, under the UN flag, for grain convoys departing from Odessa. Before leaving for Kyiv, Ms. Colonna had spoken with her Turkish counterpart, Mevlet Cavusoglu, whose country controls the Bosphorus Strait, which has been closed since the start of the conflict to the passage of military ships.

Beforehand, the subject was discussed during a new phone call between Vladimir Poutine, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, Saturday, May 28. The French President and the German Chancellor “took note of the promise of the Russian President to grant ships access to the port [of Odessa] for the export of grain without it being exploited militarily by Russia if it was previously cleared”, according to the Elysée. “Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports,” the Kremlin confirmed in parallel. According to Vladimir Putin, Russia would be ready to increase its exports of fertilizers and agricultural products if the sanctions against it were lifted. A perspective rejected by Ukraine and, no doubt, by many European countries.

Catherine Colonna’s visit is all the more timely as the issue of support for Ukraine, and that of the blockade of the country, will be at the heart of a new European summit, Monday and Tuesday in Brussels. Mr. Zelensky was to take part in it from a distance, as fighting rages in the Donbass, with Russia’s firepower allowing him to advance in the Luhansk region.