Just four days before Moscow’s forces attacked Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron had a furious argument over the phone, with the Russian strongman claiming that Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky was lying to the French president, according to a bombshell leak.
Details of the confidential exchange between the two world leaders on Feb. 20 were revealed in a new documentary about Macron’s handling of the ongoing conflict, titled “A President, Europe and War,” which premiered last week on channel France 2.
As Russia was in the process of massing its forces in preparation for the full-scale invasion in late February, Macron called his Russian counterpart to offer his views on the escalating situation and discuss “useful actions” to defuse it.
Putin quickly turned the conversation to “our dear colleague Mr. Zelensky, ”accusing the Ukrainian president of“ lying ”to Macron about his intention to implement the Minsk Accords, which had sought to end the war in the Donbas region.
Putin then took issue with Zelensky’s apparent refusal to negotiate with pro-Kremlin Ukrainian separatists, which infuriated the French president and prompted him to exclaim in audible frustration: “I do not know where your lawyer learned law!”
He then added: “I do not know what lawyer will be able to tell you that in a sovereign country, the texts of laws are proposed by separatist groups and not by the democratically elected authorities.”
Putin fired back at his French counterpart, arguing that Zelensky’s government was not democratically elected.
“They came to power in a bloody coup, with murders and arsons and people being burned alive,” Putin told Macron.
Zelensky, a former comedian and actor, was elected in a landslide victory in 2019 by drawing more than 73 percent of the votes.
As the verbal spat became more heated, Macron told Putin he does not “give a damn about the separatists’ proposals” because they fall outside of the law.
After some more bickering, France’s leader tried to get the conversation back on the diplomatic track and proposed a meeting among all the parties in the conflict. He also promised Putin to call Zelensky to “calm everyone down,” but he urged the Russian leader to turn down the temperature on the Ukraine border.
“There was a lot of shelling yesterday,” Macron pointed out. “If we want to give dialogue a chance, we have to calm things down in the region.”
Putin said his forces will wrap up their military exercises that night, but warned that Russia “will definitely leave a military presence on the border until the situation in Donbas calms down.”
Macron urged Putin to “not give in to provocations of any kind,” and pressed him to agree to a face-to-face with President Biden in Geneva in the coming days, but Russia’s leader avoided naming a specific date, masking his brush- off with pleasantries.
Putin then casually wrapped up the call by telling Macron: “To be honest with you, I wanted to go play ice hockey because here I’m talking to you from the gym before starting physical exercises.”
Despite his assurances to Macron that he agreed “in principle” to meet with Biden in order to find a diplomatic solution to the brewing crisis, the very next day Putin recognized Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.
And three days after that, Russian forces mounted a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, raining artillery fire on cities and towns, including Kyiv.
During a trip to Vietnam on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took aim at France for publishing the contents of the top-secret conversation.
“In principle, we lead negotiations in such a way that we never have anything to be ashamed of, if you wish,” the foreign minister said. “We always say what we think and are ready to answer for our words and explain our position. I believe that diplomatic ethics, of course, do not allow for such a unilateral leak of the recording. ”