France-Rus­sia: An Im­prob­a­ble Re­set That Quickly Turned Sour

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

Afew hours af­ter his re­turn from Ver­sailles, Vladimir Putin chose to give an in­ter­view to the right-wing news­pa­per Le Fi­garo.. With hardly veiled re­sent­ment, he took is­sue with his host, newly elected French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, and re­buffed him on the ma­jor points of con­tention that came out dur­ing their May 29 press con­fer­ence: Syria, Ukraine, and in­ter­fer­ence in the French elec­toral cam­paign.

In Ver­sailles, Putin lis­tened sternly to Macron’s moral les­son about Ukraine and hu­man rights in Chech­nya, said lit­tle, and looked im­pa­tient to leave. Now, he played the de­cid­ing match — with­out the con­tender, on his own terms, and at the new Rus­sian Ortho­dox cen­ter he had be­lat­edly opened on the banks of the Seine.

Vladimir Putin’s meth­ods are well-known to sea­soned Rus­sia ob­servers. He de­nies es­tab­lished facts—like Da­m­as­cus’s use of chem­i­cal weapons against civil­ians. He an­grily dis­misses for­eign lead­ers’ po­si­tions on the Ukrainian con­flict. And he speaks in­sin­cerely about the Rus­sian state me­dia’s smear cam­paign against Macron and the hack­ing of his move­ment’s web­site and emails.

Oddly, Putin strongly de­fended his right to wel­come Ma­rine Le Pen in the Krem­lin dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race.

The new French pres­i­dent is learn­ing the hard way what it costs to have a “very frank and di­rect” ex­change with the mas­ter of the Krem­lin. The Rus­sian pres­i­dent has spent sev­en­teen years at the helm. Macron, mean­while, is tak­ing his first steps in in­ter­na­tional power pol­i­tics and prob­a­bly mis­read his guest’s rea­sons and ex­pec­ta­tions for this meet­ing.

Putin was seek­ing honor and re­spect, recog­ni­tion of his stature as dean of the “con­cert of na­tions,” and also a be­nign French re­sponse to his ag­gres­sive mil­i­tary poli­cies for “restor­ing le­gal or­der and peace” in Syria and Ukraine. He was tak­ing an op­por­tu­nity to make a come­back on the Euro­pean stage, af­ter the G7 sum­mit in Si­cily held with­out him.

Putin was not look­ing for a frank, hon­est discussion on is­sues of war and peace. And he cer­tainly did not ex­pect Macron to open the press con­fer­ence with strong crit­i­cisms of state vi­o­lence against gay men in Chech­nya and to hint that he, Putin, should fix this.

To Moscow, the most of­fen­sive part of the failed show was that the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties had worked hard to ob­tain this in­vi­ta­tion from the Elysée Palace. They wanted Macron to re­pair the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Oc­to­ber 2016, when François Hol­lande ad­vised Vladimir Putin against vis­it­ing to Paris to in­au­gu­rate the new Rus­sian Ortho­dox cen­ter. At the time, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary was help­ing Bashar As­sad’s army in their bru­tal as­sault on Aleppo.

The Krem­lin’s pref­er­ence for armed con­flict over ne­go­ti­a­tion has a deeply cor­ro­sive ef­fect on its re­la­tion­ship with France, de­spite a “cen­turies-long friend­ship.” Trust is gone.

Vladimir Putin did not come to Ver­sailles to ne­go­ti­ate a way out of the Syr­ian tragedy. He came to drag Macron into his po­lit­i­cal logic, in which the global strug­gle against ter­ror­ism

pre­dom­i­nates, no mat­ter what.

But in France, Italy, Ger­many, Greece and Ro­ma­nia, the pub­lic sees a clear link be­tween Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion in the war and refugees cross­ing our bor­ders. Even the most per­ni­cious fake news and pro­pa­ganda can­not white­wash the glar­ing facts: Rus­sia’s use of mil­i­tary force cre­ates more in­se­cu­rity and does not help us fight back against ter­ror­ists in our ci­ties.

For the new French pres­i­dent, Ver­sailles was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Vladimir Putin can­not be se­duced, lec­tured or talked into a ra­tio­nal, “fully in­clu­sive” (Macron’s words) mul­ti­lat­eral diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tion. There is no bait that he is will­ing to take.

Putin wants to talk with Western lead­ers on his own terms — and those terms alone. He has shown he is not will­ing to com­pro­mise in or­der to re­store a bro­ken part­ner­ship with Europe.

For Em­manuel Macron, the path for­ward is clear — the fur­ther strength­en­ing of the Franco-Ger­man tan­dem and of Europe’s po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary unity. Given the cur­rent un­pre­dictabil­ity of U.S. poli­cies and its shaky com­mit­ment to NATO, Euro­pean states will likely close ranks. In this re­newed strat­egy of com­mon se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy, France will play a lead­ing role.

And Putin has given us one more in­cen­tive to en­sure ideas of nar­row na­tional in­ter­est do not get in the way of a uni­fied Euro­pean po­si­tion to­ward the Rus­sian lead­er­ship.

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