A newly released transcript of a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reveals Putin prioritized a game of ice hockey ahead of scheduling peace negotiations with U.S. President Joe Biden.
The transcript of the Feb. 20 phone call between Putin and Macron was obtained and jointly published by AFP and the French-language publication Le Temps. The transcript revealed that during the call between Macron and Putin, the French president asked Putin to agree to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland for peace talks.
“I spoke to [Biden] Friday evening, I asked him if I could make you this proposal,” Macron said. “He told me to tell you he was ready for it. President Biden also reflected on ways to credibly de-escalate the situation, take your demands into account and very clearly address the issue of NATO and Ukraine.”
Putin initially thanked Macron and said “I always have a lot of fun talking to you because we are in a relationship of trust” but said Macron has to be the one to prepare the meeting. The two leaders continued to talk back and forth, with Macron repeatedly asking Putin to at least agree in principle to meet with Biden.
“I would like a clear answer from you on this,” Macron said. “I understand your reluctance on a date, but are you ready to go ahead and say today ‘I would like a two-person meeting with the Americans, then extended to the Europeans’ or not?”
Putin eventually said he agreed in principle with the idea of meeting with Biden and said Macron’s advisors should coordinate the details of the meeting with his own advisors. Macron then responded that both the French and Russian sides should release a joint statement after their call that Putin had agreed to meet with Biden on peace negotiations. Rather than making it his first priority to announce an agreement to meet for peace talks, Putin instead responded that he would go play ice hockey first.
“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,” Putin said. “I’ll call my advisors first.”
Macron ended the call by saying, “Anyway, thank you, Vladimir. We stay in touch in real-time. As soon as there is something, you call me.”
The Feb. 20 phone call came just days before Putin announced in the early morning hours on Feb. 24 that Russian forces had launched a special military operation in Ukraine. This operation was the start of the ongoing war in Ukraine. While Macron and Putin spoke again on Feb. 21, the peace negotiations Putin said he agreed to in principle never materialized.
The transcript of this Feb. 20 call was released ahead of a documentary by the France 2 channel that will release on Thursday. The documentary will focus on Macron’s failed attempts to talk Putin out of invading Ukraine.
The call transcript included other peculiar details and indications Putin was not negotiating in good faith with Macron. During one part of the exchange, Macron said he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to calm him down about the massive Russian troop buildup along Ukraine’s border before the invasion began and about recent exchanges of artillery fire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Macron said in order to help ease the tensions as the middleman between Putin and Zelenskyy, he needed to know the plan for Russia’s troop buildup, which Putin at the time had described simply as a military exercise.
“There was a lot of shelling yesterday,” Macron said. “If we want to give dialogue a chance, we have to calm things down in the region. How do you see the evolution of military exercises?”
“Exercises are proceeding according to plan,” Putin said.
“So they end tonight, right?” Macron asked.
“Yes, probably tonight,” Putin said. “And we will definitely leave a military presence on the border until the situation in Donbas calms down. The discussion will be taken in consultation with the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.”
As history shows, rather than ending the Russian military exercise on Ukraine’s border, those troops formed Russia’s initial invasion force against Ukraine.