PARIS (AP) — “Vladimir … tell me what your intentions are.”

Four days before President Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron was making a final attempt to avert war in a key phone call revealed in a French television documentary.

In the rare public recording of a discussion between two world leaders, Macron tries to convince the Russian president to “calm things down” in the region. But all his suggestions come to a dead end on Putin’s part.

The French documentary “A President, Europe and War” offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at months of diplomatic wrangling amid Europe’s worst crisis in decades. It was meant to focus on Macron during France’s leadership of the rotating EU presidency, but ended up capturing historic moments in the Ukraine war, including tracking Macron to Moscow and on two trips to Kyiv.

During the call with Putin on February 20, both leaders use the informal version of the word “you” to speak to each other, in a very direct tone.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “is lying to you,” Putin tells Macron, accusing the Kyiv authorities of having come to power through “a bloody coup. People were burned alive, it was a bloodbath.” Zelenskyy was democratically elected in 2019; Putin seemed to be referring to his own interpretation of previous events in Ukraine.

At some point, the French president slightly raises his voice, visibly irritated: “I don’t know where your lawyer learned law,” he says, openly criticizing Russian views.

Macron can also be heard pushing for a meeting between Putin and US President Joe Biden. Putin agrees in principle, but he says that he first needs his aides to prepare the talks. The meeting never takes place.

“It was like a very tough conversation between two totally opposite people,” said French journalist Guy Lagache, who shot and directed the film on his own. He was integrated into the diplomatic service of the Elysee: exceptional access in a country where the president controls his public image and diplomatic advisers are generally kept out of sight of the cameras.

Putin’s promise to meet with Biden turned out to be “a lie,” Lagache told The Associated Press. “But if you don’t try to do that (negotiate a meeting), you can’t tell if he’s going to lie.”

Lagache’s comments echo those of Macron’s top diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, who warns in the documentary that Putin “always lies.”

The Russian president, who likes to publicize his athletic exploits, wraps up the discussion in his own way, telling Macron that he is speaking “from the gym”.

“I wanted to go play ice hockey,” he says.

Another phone call allows viewers to feel Zelenskyy’s shock and horror and the urgency of the moment on the day the war began.

“The Russians, it is terrible what they do. … Now they are in Kyiv, we are fighting in Kyiv, Emmanuel,” Zelenskyy tells Macron. Macron is silent for several seconds.

“Yes, it is a total war”, confirms the Ukrainian leader.

When Bonne, the diplomatic adviser, tries four times to call his Russian counterpart on his mobile phone, to no avail. “They have the nerve to wage war, but not the courage to speak out,” he says, seemingly helpless.

Lagache said that being there and filming, he could “feel the drama that was unfolding.”

“And you see that politics is also, and above all, about people, (made) by people trying to find solutions in a very complex situation,” he added.

The documentary, released in France last week, offers scenes rarely seen on television.

Macron can be seen holding a meeting in his bunker under the Elysee Palace and working with his team on the presidential plane, dressed in a blue hoodie.

The film also shows in detail the work of diplomatic advisers, from preparing Macron’s speech to sending him text messages during his phone calls with world leaders.

In a surreal moment just before the war, Macron’s aides manage to salvage a potential €1 billion contract for French rail giant Alstom by sending a last-minute handwritten note to the French president as he meets with Zelenskyy. in Kyiv.

Lagache specified that he took care not to divulge any classified information. Specific details about France’s military support for Ukraine do not appear in the documentary.

Nor does it show the discussion between Macron and Zelenskyy after the French president made comments that angered Ukrainians for not humiliating Russia.

The documentary highlights the coordination of European leaders to support Ukraine and impose unprecedented sanctions on Russia.

The camera follows Macron with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on the train to Kyiv in mid-June, where they pledged weapons and endorsed Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. The leaders visited nearby Irpin, a suburb where many civilians were killed, and Macron said he saw signs of “war crimes.”

“What matters to me is trying to be useful and making sure that the conflict doesn’t spread, that Ukraine can stop it and regain control, and that Europeans stay united,” Macron says on the way back. “There is much to be done. It is not finished.”


Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war at


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