PARIS, May 31 — Despite real and persistent disagreements, Monday’s meeting between the French and Russian presidents has marked the reopening of firm and pragmatic dialogue between Paris and Moscow after an era of distrust in recent years, analysts said.
Even as thorny issues such as Crimea, Ukraine and Syria were discussed by Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin, the French and Russian presidents laid the groundwork for future relations between their two countries which were strongly strained of late, experts commented.
Last October, Putin had cancelled his visit to France after the French presidential office had made it known he was not welcome after a new Russian veto within the UN Security Council and the continuation of airstrikes east of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The two men met in Versailles, at the Grand Trianon palace, in order to inaugurate the exhibition: “Peter the Great, a Tsar in France, 1717,” observing the 300th anniversary of the opening of the Russian embassy in Paris. The then-emperor had come to the seven-year-old King Louis XV, seeking the friendship of France in order to counteract the influence of Sweden and Austria.
Hadrien Desuin, a specialist in international and defense issues, said Macron in receiving Putin sent “a very strong diplomatic signal to the rest of the world. It reminded the United States that France is not falling into line,” he said.
Describing this meeting as “extremely important,” Russia-specialist historian specialized in Russia Helene Carrere d’Encausse said: “The new French president is in the process of restarting a relationship between Paris and Moscow which had been interrupted.”
Writer and former Russian diplomat Vladimir Fedorovski felt both leaders chose to respond firmly but calmly to all sensitive subjects with a pragmatic stance.
“In agreeing on the proper handling of terrorist threats, for example, Macron and Putin rose above the often sensitive ideological or ethical differences,” he argued.
Even while setting “red lines,” Macron promised to cooperate with Moscow in a joint press conference with Putin, and called for a reinforcement of the “partnership with Russia” in Syria.
“A very clear red line exists for our side — the use of chemical weapons — by whoever it may be,” warned the head of the French state. “Any use of chemical weapons will be the target of reprisals and an immediate retaliation, in any case on the part of the French,” he said.
The director of the European Center of Strategic Analysis Philippe Migault said “the firm but courteous attitude of Macron would please the Russians.”
“We see a clear evolution in strategy and tone in comparison to former president Francois Hollande,” he noted.
When Putin said the sanctions against his country contribute “in no way” to fix the Ukrain crisis, the French president responded by saying that there would be a discussion in the Normandy format in order to avoid “an escalation” of tensions.
The Normandy format refers to another meeting between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine.
Bringing up the reported accusations of the persecution of homosexuals in Chechnya, Macron called for “constant vigil” on the issue.
He also once again defended the exclusion of Russian media agencies Sputnik and Russia Today from official briefings, which he accused of spreading false information during the French presidential campaign. “They did not behave like press outlets, but like influence outlets,” he said.
Former French ambassador Eugene Berg said even if Moscow wasn’t hoping to see Macron in the Elysee Palace, it can nevertheless allow for a renewal in Franco-Russian relations.
Pointing to strong economic links, the former diplomat underlined the importance of the French project by energy giant Total, which is building with Russian and Chinese partners a giant liquid gas factory on the Yamal peninsula in the Russian High North.
Numerous large French industries (pharmaceutical, distribution, chemical products, banks, energy, transport) are present in Russia, which is one of the three primary destinations for French investments abroad.
He added half of Russia’s international commerce is conducted with Europe and many European states depend on Russian natural gas. Such links of interdependence could facilitate a warming of relations, Berg said. (Xinhua)