Professor Jean-Robert Pitte, President of the French Societé de Geographié has written an open letter to Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoygu, respectively Chairman of the Board, and Executive President, of the Russian Geographical Society.  We present here an English translation. the version in French can be found here

Dear Presidents,

I authorize myself to write to you as leaders of the eminent Geographical Society of Russia, created in 1845, counterpart and partner since the origin of the Geographical Society, the first in the world, created in Paris in 1821, but also because you are respectively President and Minister of Defense of this great country which is the Russian Federation. You are not unaware of the emotion and sadness created in France by the iniquitous war that you have undertaken in Ukraine. It sows death, pushes millions of men, women and children into exodus and leads to the devastation of this country very dear to our hearts. French geographers have maintained scientific and friendly relations with their Russian counterparts for a very long time and our two learned societies are linked by an active agreement which has already borne much fruit. I therefore beg you to agree to read the following remarks.

Yves Lacoste, one of the eminent French geographers who contributed to rehabilitating geopolitics, an indispensable branch of our discipline, wrote in 1975 an essay which had made some noise in its time: Geography, it first serves to make the war. It was a somewhat provocative way of saying that geographical science has, since Antiquity, developed a lot at the request of the military for the needs of their missions, but in no way an affirmation of the exclusive use of that for warlike purposes. On the contrary, as you well know, geography, which has undergone prodigious developments since the Second World War, serves above all to improve the control of human societies over their environment and, by allowing them to get to know each other better, to promote fraternity and make peace.

Mr. Executive Chairman, you created and directed with talent from 1994 to 2012 the Ministry of Emergency Situations, a function for which geographical knowledge is essential. Having become the governor of the Moscow oblast in 2012, you showed that geography also makes it possible to manage the proper functioning of a territory as complex as one whose capital is a major world metropolis. At the same time, you became Minister of Defense and, unfortunately, you mislead this essential function for any country by launching an assault on Ukraine, an independent and recognized country. You act ignoring all the rules of international law, in the first place the right of peoples to self-determination. Everyone knows the powerful historical ties that bind Russia and Ukraine and the intertwining of your populations, but your destinies separated three decades ago, which was enough to create in Ukraine a real Nation that builds its own cultural model. , political and economic, which aspires to live in peace with its neighbors in a world open to all possible exchanges, including with you. As you know, the vast majority of Russian speakers in this country feel, say and want to be Ukrainians. It is a cultural and therefore geographical reality that you can deny in your speeches, but not in your heart of hearts and that you will not be able to concretize in geopolitical reality, except by violence. Don’t you remember the horrors perpetrated by Stalin and Hitler who wanted to twist the destiny of peoples by imposing a new identity on them, by forcibly displacing them from their legitimate territory? They were terrible barbarians, without faith or law, and they were moreover profoundly ignorant of geography, a shortcoming which has always been in the history of the world a weapon of mass destruction.

Isn’t the immensity of Russia enough for you? Yourself, Minister, who is a Tuvain, born in southern Siberia, 3500 km from Moscow, know from experience how difficult it is to manage such a vast territory, especially when disasters occur.

Like the presidents of all the geographical societies of the world, I invited you a few weeks ago to the ceremonies of the bicentenary of the Geographical Society. You were unable to come to Paris on this occasion, but allow me to tell you how the ceremony ended, which brought together more than 600 people in the Grand Amphitheater of the Sorbonne, in the presence of a lover of geography and peacemaker, Prince Albert II of Monaco. Colonel Boulanger, conductor of the Republican Guard orchestra which accompanied the event, decided to conclude with a piece of Russian music which is popular all over the world: kalinka. To the surprise of the conductor and the orchestra, the audience began to smile and clap their hands, as they do in Russia. The faces lit up and this joyful piece ended in general jubilation. We love your country whose literature, music and all the arts have brought so much to the world. We want to remain your friends and, as far as the Society that I have the honor to preside, continues to do good geography together, in true complicity and in the service of peace. Please, listen to the voice of wisdom, that of geography, withdraw from Ukraine and return to the concert of Nations!

 

Jean-Robert Pitte,

President of the Geographical Society
Permanent Secretary of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences