Russian president, Vladimir Putin has been accused of making a rape joke about Ukraine by calling the country his ‘beauty’ amid fears he will order an invasion. In a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow today, Putin criticised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who recently said he does not like the 2015 Minsk peace agreements on the country’s separatist conflict. ‘Like it or not, my beauty, you have to put up with it,’ Putin said, using an expression that rhymes in Russian. The remark sparked a heated online debate, with many accusing Putin of using the kind of language that attempts to justify rape. ‘Of course, there are things that you can’t argue about with the Russian president: Ukraine is indeed a beauty,’ Zelensky, who is a former comedian and actor, said after talks with Macron.
However, the 44-year-old leader added during a joint news conference, ‘when he calls Ukraine ‘mine’ I believe that’s already too much.’ Zelensky also said that Ukraine was wise to be ‘very patient’ in its dealings with Russia. ‘I think that this is important not only for Ukraine, but for the whole of Europe,’ Zelensky said.
Asked about the remark in a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no offence was intended. ‘The president meant that if a state has taken on obligations… then it needs to fulfil them,’ Peskov said.
He also said he was ‘convinced’ that Putin was not familiar with the work of a Russian nineties rock band that had an almost identical line in the lyrics of a song with references to necrophilia. ‘But I think that this band in its time borrowed this expression from Russian folklore,’ Peskov said. Putin is known for making controversial remarks, such as saying that if Russia wanted to kill Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny it would have ‘finished the job’. He also told Joe Biden that it ‘takes one to know one’ after the US president agreed with comments that Putin was a ‘killer’.
Meanwhile, Macron said on Tuesday that Putin had told him that Moscow would not further escalate the Ukraine crisis. He also said it would take time to find a diplomatic solution to the rising tensions, which represent the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. His remarks on a visit to Kyiv came as the Kremlin denied reports that he and Putin struck a deal on de-escalating the crisis. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that ‘in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals.’
Macron also met with Zelensky amid mounting fears of a Russian invasion. Moscow has massed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, but insists it has no plans to attack. This comes after the EU’s diplomatic chief said Tuesday that Macron’s visit to Russia brought ‘an element of detente’ to the crisis between the West and Moscow over Ukraine, but did not amount to a ‘miracle.’
‘As far as people are willing to sit at the table and talk I think that there is a hope for not going into military confrontation,’ Josep Borrell told reporters at the end of a visit to Washington.
As such, Macron’s visit Monday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was ‘a positive signal’ and ‘a good initiative,’ Borrell added. ‘I think it represents an element of detente.’ The Kremlin wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members, that it halt weapon deployments there and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe – demands the U.S. and NATO reject as nonstarters.
At a news conference after meeting Zelensky, Macron said Putin told him during their more than five-hour session Monday that ‘he won’t be initiating an escalation. I think it is important.’ According to the French president, Putin also said there won’t be any Russian ‘permanent (military) base’ or ‘deployment’ in Belarus, where Russia had sent a large number of troops for war games. Peskov said withdrawing Russian troops from Belarus after the maneuvers was the plan all along. Zelensky said he would welcome concrete steps from Putin for de-escalation, adding he didn’t ‘trust words in general.’