It is one of the last talks before Russia invades Ukraine – four days before, French President Emmanuel Macron is on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A camera team is filming the exchange of blows between the two for a documentary (“The President, Europe and the War”), the film will be broadcast on French TV on Thursday. But the Élysée Palace has already published the minutes of the conversation.

It is the morning of February 20th. The French President, who has previously been to Moscow and Kyiv, is trying to prevent a war because Putin’s troops have already deployed to Ukraine’s border for an exercise. Both try to convince each other of their position and become more and more upset. In the interview, the liberal daily Le Figaro called Macron “tough, aggressive, a bit imperious, even aloof.”

But first of all, Macron begins in a conciliatory tone: Tensions have increased since their last conversation, he says to Putin. He always stands for the continuation of the dialogue. Macron: “I would like you to first give me your assessment of the situation and tell me what your intentions are.” Then he wants to make suggestions to Putin.

Putin immediately reacted indignantly, it’s about eastern Ukraine: “You can see for yourself what’s happening. You and Chancellor Scholz told me that Zelenskyj was ready to make a gesture of good will. He prepared a draft law to implement the Minsk agreements (…), in reality our dear colleague Mr. Zelenskyj does nothing. He’s lying to you (…) I don’t know if you heard his statement yesterday saying that Ukraine must have access to nuclear weapons.”

Macron’s chief diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne protests in the background: “But no, what nonsense!” Putin continues undeterred: “I also heard your (Macron’s) comments during the press conference in Kyiv on February 8th. You have called for a review of the Minsk Accords so that, I quote, ‘implementation’ can take place.”

With Macron, you can hear the adviser’s voice again: “No, he didn’t say that.” A total of four French advisers are listening. Macron replies: “Vladimir, I never said that a review of the Minsk agreement is necessary. Neither in Berlin, nor in Kyiv, nor in Paris. I just said it has to be implemented.”

But Putin doesn’t go into that. He continues to scold and defend the separatists in Donbass: “Listen Emmanuel, I don’t understand your problem with the separatists. At least, at our insistence, they have done everything necessary to establish a constructive dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities.”

Macron is getting tougher now. The Minsk agreements are a dialogue with Russia. The basis of the talks is by no means a legal text submitted by the separatists. “It’s not separatists who will make proposals on Ukrainian laws!” says Macron.

The discussion continues. Putin recalls individual articles of the Minsk Agreement. “I have it in front of me,” Macron replies sharply. He reads the texts and applies them as they are written there. “I don’t know where your lawyer studied law!” he says. In a sovereign country, legislative texts would not be proposed by separatist groups.

Putin now reacts annoyed: “There is no democratically elected government (in Ukraine). They came to power through a coup, people were burned alive, it was a bloodbath and Zelenskyj is one of those responsible!”

Putin goes on to argue: “Listen to me carefully: the principle of dialogue is to consider the interests of the other party. The proposals exist, the separatists, as you call them, sent them to the Ukrainians, but they received no response. Where’s the dialogue there?”

Macron replies that these are the separatists’ proposals. “We are not interested in the separatists’ proposals. What you said raises some doubts about your willingness to respect the Minsk agreements! If you think you are dealing with (Ukraine) an illegitimate and terrorist government.”

Putin replies angrily: “Listen to me. Do not you hear me? I’ll say it again: the separatists, as you call them, have responded to the Ukrainian authorities’ proposals.”

Macron: “Okay, based on your reaction, I suggest that we call for a meeting of all parties to move forward. (…) For the past two days, the separatists have not wanted to get involved in this discussion. I will demand that from Zelenskyj immediately. Do you agree with that?

Putin says he will review the proposals as soon as he hangs up. “But it would have been necessary to put pressure on the Ukrainians from the start, but nobody wanted to do it.”

Macron: “I’ll do my best to get them to do it. You know that.” Putin: “I know, but unfortunately it’s not effective.”

The French President now slightly changes the direction of the conversation: “I need a little help from you,” he says. The situation in eastern Ukraine is tense. He asked Zelenskyj to calm down, to keep his armed forces and social networks calm. “Can you also call your forces to rest? There was a lot of shooting yesterday. If we want to give dialogue a chance, we have to calm the situation in the region.”

He immediately adds the question related to Putin’s troops on the Ukrainian border: “How do you see the military exercises?”

Putin: “The exercises are going according to plan.” Macron: “So they end tonight, right?”

Putin replies: “Yes, probably tonight, and we will certainly leave a military presence on the border until the situation in Donbas calms down. That will be decided in consultation with the defense and foreign ministries.” Four days later, the war against Ukraine began.

“Ok, Vladimir,” said Macron, “I’ll tell you honestly, that’s a requirement for me to avoid tension. It’s important to me that we calm the situation down. I count on you.”

Macron says he spoke to US President Joe Biden and asked if he could offer Putin a meeting. Biden is ready to meet Putin in Geneva “in the coming days”. “He told me to tell you he’s ready for it. President Biden has also thought about how to credibly de-escalate the situation, take your demands into account and clearly raise the issue of NATO and Ukraine. Tell me when a meeting would be convenient for you.”

Putin responds politely but uninterested: “Thank you Emmanuel. It is always a great pleasure and honor to speak to your European colleagues as well as to the US. It’s a lot of fun for me because we have a relationship of trust. Emmanuel, I suggest we turn it around. First of all, we need to prepare for this meeting. Only then can we talk.”

Macron says he can understand the reluctance to give an exact date: “But can we agree today that we agree in principle on a meeting? I would like a clear answer from you.”

Putin dodges: “It’s a proposal that deserves to be considered.” He would ask his advisers to get in touch with Macron’s advisers. Maroon: “Very good. Please confirm that you agree in principle, then our teams can include that in the press release.” Putin: “To be honest, I wanted to go play ice hockey now. I’m just talking to you from the gym. I’ll call my advisors first.”

Macron: “Nevertheless, thank you Vladimir. We keep in touch in real time. As soon as there is something, you call me.” Putin: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

The conversation is almost complete. Chief Advisor Bonne cleared it. He had to ensure that no “secret information” was leaked to the public. “There’s only one thing I took out, which is very confidential information,” he told 20minutes newspaper. Macron later told documentary filmmaker Guy Lagache: “We couldn’t convince him and he invaded Ukraine.”