Monday

25th Mar 2019

Macron to tell Putin EU sanctions to stay

  • Versailles setting will "suit" Putin, a former Hollande aide said (Photo: PRONinara)

The new French leader aims to tell the Russian president he wants political solutions in Syria and Ukraine, but that EU sanctions on Russia are to stay in place.

That was the message that French president Emmanuel Macron gave to press following the G7 summit in Italy on Saturday (27 May).

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  • Macron and Merkel have voiced a tough and united line on Russia (Photo: elysee.fr)

“I’ll have an exacting dialogue with Russia, but we do need a dialogue despite everything … especially on the issue of Syria”, he said.

“We must talk to Russia to change the framework for getting out of the military crisis … to build a political solution”.

Macron noted that the G7 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US - had agreed that economic sanctions on Russia should stay in place until Putin stopped the war in east Ukraine.

“I respect those principles and I will continue to support them”, the French leader said.

He said he wanted to take part in talks on Ukraine in the so-called Normandy format - with German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders - as “soon as possible”.

EU states and the new US leader, Donald Trump, fell out over climate change and defence budgets last week, but Macron said transatlantic disunity should not be blown out of proportion.

The G7 talks and a prior Nato summit in Brussels last week “reaffirmed the solidarity” of “the world’s great democracies and economic powers” on foreign policy issues such as Syria and Ukraine, the French leader said.

Macron spoke prior to meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first time on Monday.

Man to man

The two men are to hold one-on-one talks for an hour and 15 minutes as well as a 45-minute long working dinner at the Versailles palace complex near Paris.

It will be the first time Putin is to hold bilateral talks with a French leader since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.

The meeting also comes after Putin tried and failed to help Macron’s rival, French far-right politician Marine Le Pen, to win the French election earlier this month.

The event is likely to be watched for its body language after Macron said that his tug-of-war handshake with Trump in Brussels last week was designed to show that France would not give way even on “little” things.

The Macron-Putin meeting will be heavy in historical symbolism as well.

The Versailles venue is hosting an exhibition to mark 300 years since the visit of Russian tsar Peter the Great to French king Louis XV.

The tsar at the time picked up the king, who was seven years old, in his arms, but Christophe Castaner, a Macron aide, said Putin, a 64-year old veteran of world affairs, should not expect to humble the younger Macron, who is 39.

“I’m confident [Macron] will take a strong position”, Castaner told French radio at the weekend.

“It’s all the more important since some may think this young man doesn’t have the stature of a president of the republic and isn’t up to defending France”.

Kremlin agenda

Yury Ushakov, a Kremlin aide, said last Friday that the main aim of the Macron-Putin meeting would be for the two men to get “acquainted”.

Ushakov noted that France has had one of the “toughest” attitudes in Europe on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally whom France has said must step down and face justice for war crimes.

Ushakov also noted that "trade turnover [between France and Russia] has halved over the past three years from over $22 billion [€20b] to over $13 billion”, due to EU sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions.

He said that 180 French businessmen planned to attend an economic forum in Russia next week.

Alexander Orlov, Russia’s ambassador to France, told French media last week that Macron was “very intelligent, realistic, and pragmatic” as well as “free from ideology”.

Irony

Jacques Audibert, a former aide to Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, said Putin would “like” the imperial pomp of the Versailles venue.

“It adds a bit of grandeur”, Audibert told the CNews TV broadcaster.

Kadri Liik, an Estonian expert at the Council of Foreign Relations, a London-based think-tank, said it was an “irony” the Russian tsar went to France to mark a pivot to Europe, while Putin was going there “at a time when Moscow loudly promotes its ‘pivot to Eurasia’ in terms that suggest the unravelling of Peter the Great’s legacy of Russia’s European identity”.

The OSCE, an international monitoring group, recorded more than 230 explosions in the Donetsk area of east Ukraine on the eve of Putin’s trip to France.

Ukraine aside, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO, urged Macron to also challenge Putin on his increasingly totalitarian rule in Russia.

The Versailles meeting will “give direction to the agenda for Franco-Russian relations for years to come, but the question is how firmly rights will be embedded in it”, the NGO’s Benedicte Jeannerod said.

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