Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Russia unsure how to read French election

  • Le Pen (c) on her way to meet Putin at the Kremlin in March (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russia is not relying on Marine Le Pen to keep her word on mending relations if she is elected as French president on Sunday (7 May).

Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday that Moscow was closely following the French campaign ahead of the run-off.

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  • Chizhov (r): "Not everything that is said during an electoral campaign comes to life." (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

“We have been carefully listening to what each of the, originally, 11 candidates were saying about relations with Russia,” he said.

“They were saying different things, but as recent history has shown elsewhere, not everything that is said during an electoral campaign comes to life after the election.”

Chizhov spoke a few hours before the remaining French candidates, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, held a TV debate in Paris.

Le Pen had earlier said there should be no EU sanctions on Russia and that she recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

She said on Wednesday she did not want a Cold War and that Russia had “shown no hostility toward France”.

Macron said she was “submissive to Russia's diktat”, but Chizhov’s comment on “recent history”, an allusion to Donald Trump, indicated that Russia was not sure what to expect if she won.

Trump, the US president, also said he would reset Russia ties, but he has not lifted sanctions since coming to power and, in April, he bombed Russia’s ally in Syria.

Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted Le Pen in Moscow in March.

Russian banks have loaned her party millions of euros and Russian state media have savaged Macron.

Russia's military intelligence service, which reports directly to Putin, also tried to hack Macron’s campaign team, evidence indicates.

“I have not noticed that Russia backs any of the presidential candidates in France,” Chizhov said on Wednesday.

“I want to reiterate that Russia does not meddle in elections in other countries.”

Macron’s team, last month, blocked Russian state media RT and Sputnik from attending its press events on grounds that they published false news.

Chizhov said on Wednesday he was “appalled” by that decision.

EU talks

Whatever happens in France, Chizhov said there was a “blossoming understanding” in the EU on the need for a “new dialogue” with Russia.

He noted that German leader Angela Merkel met Putin in Russia on Tuesday and that Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni was going there on 11 May.

He also noted that EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini was in Moscow last week and said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was going to Helsinki on Thursday and to Brussels later on.

Chizhov said he would be happy to restart what he called “sectoral” talks with the EU after these were suspended over its invasion of Ukraine.

He said these could take place “at the level of political directors or ministerial level” and that they could cover Syria, Libya, Israel-Palestine, and Iran’s nuclear programme.

He criticised the EU on the Western Balkans, saying its support for an ethnic-Macedonian and Albanian coalition in Macedonia could destabilise the country.

He also said Brexit posed questions for future UK-Russia relations.

Brexit jokes

Chizhov noted that the UK would not be bound to uphold EU sanctions on Russia after it left the EU, as expected, in 2019.

But he joked that “actually, I expect sanctions to be lifted before Brexit happens”.

He also joked he was “grateful” to “European media, which were prudent enough not to claim that last year’s [Brexit] referendum result in the UK was due to Russian hackers”.

He said the UK would have to renegotiate each tiny piece of Russia relations that are currently covered by EU accords.

He gave as an example the right of the UK's flagship airline, British Airways, to fly over Russia en route to Asia, saying that pre-EU aviation deals between the UK and Russia dated back to the 1950s, when British Airways did not exist.

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