In an interview with the Swiss TV channel RTS, French President Emmanuel Macron said that it is necessary to give a new impetus to the strategic dialogue with Russia.
« We need a strategic discussion. That’s why we will hold new comprehensive and substantive talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the near future”, he said. He added that he would want to exchange opinions with Putin not only as a French president, but also as a chairman of G7.
What does this mean? What could the future relationship between France and Russia be?
Well, it depends on a mix of national interests, European policy, NATO commitment and public opinion requirements. The last three factors can sometimes be in contradiction with the first one.
Due to this problem, Franco-Russian relations have been in crisis, especially since 2014 and the events in Ukraine and the Crimea annexation. But this relationship remains extensive. High-level contacts have, however, never been cut, and are on the contrary quite frequent.
In 2014, France agreed to both western and EU sanctions against Russia. However François Hollande has refused to follow those who asked to deny Putin invitation to the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of D. Day.
The so-called Normandy format was created at this moment and was the first step leading to Minsk agreements. These agreements have not generated real peace but have allowed to avoid a global war.
During the electoral campaign, Macron has claimed several times his own belief in “Gaullo-Mitterandism” policy, criticizing implicitly his two predecessors, who in his opinion have been too pro-American and even Neo-conservative.
Shortly after his election, he received Wladimir Putin at Versailles, with pomp and circumstances, ignoring the numerous voices asking him not to meet with the Russian president. The French medias in general are relatively hostile to Putin.
Since then, there is neither degradation nor improvement in Franco Russian relationship as they remain ambivalent. When we look at the most important strategic issues, Paris and Moscow converge on some points and diverge on others.
Ukraine is the most important point of animosity. Paris, as the other western capitals, does not recognize Crimea annexation, seen as illegal and consisting in a modification of boundaries by force, the first since WWII. The comparison with Kosovo is denied by NATO countries. And very few people in the western World dare to compare this annexation with the Iraq war of 2003 in terms of scale in violation of international law and its dire consequences. On the other hand, everybody knows that the restitution of Crimea by Russia to Ukraine is totally irenic.
During the cold war, the fact that the western world never recognized officially the annexation of the Baltic states (which took place during WWII) by the USSR did not prevent a Detente policy that was mutually beneficial.
Macron has just received the new elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. We should pay attention to his policy regarding Donbass and Russia. But it is a dead end to act as if only Moscow was guilty of the prolongation of the conflict. Some pressure must be put on Kiev too if we want to solve the crisis.
On Syria, the gap is huge. There is no way that France and other European countries can accept to participate in rebuilding Syria if Bashar remains in power. Not only because it would mean rewarding a man considered a war criminal. But, above all, because it would mean building on sand. In European minds, as long as Bashar is in charge, a true and sustainable peace cannot be reached.
If Syria and Ukraine are serious bones of contention, on some other major topics, Moscow and Paris are on the same line.
We disagree both with US unilateralism, regarding UNESCO, the Paris agreement on climate change withdrawal and the move of US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Above all, we strongly contest the way that Trump is dealing with Teheran. First by denouncing the joint comprehensive plan of action as a terrible mistake. The agreement, fruit of a 12 years negotiation prevents two worst case scenarios: Iran with nuclear weapon and a war to prevent Iran to develop nuclear weapon. But on the top of that, US willingness to forbid any country to make trade with Iran is a clear denial of sovereignty, inacceptable in the 21st century.
We could add that France has always benefited from Russian support in its intervention in Mali.
Macron has referred himself to Gaullo-Mitterandism policy, he must act consequently. That means that, even as a NATO member, Paris must fix its own policy regarding Moscow and not be guided by NATO headquarters or Pentagone. Both NATO and Pentagon have a structural opposition to Moscow. They need to increase the perception of a military threat coming from Russia in order to maintain (or increase) a high-level military budget.
Paris and Moscow are neither allies nor enemies. We could and must be partners. France should play a leading role in trying to restore confidence between the EU and Russia, but also in preventing NATO to fix European policy toward Russia.