Putin in Versailles
J’ai donné à Mme Elena Kleymenova, du Club Valdai, l’interview suivante (en anglais), au sujet de la prochaine visite, le 29 mai, du Président Poutine en France, que je publie sur mon carnet.
I gave to Elena Kleymenova of the Valdai Discussion Club the following interview on the upcoming Putin’s visit to France, that I publish on my blog.
Elena Kleymenova : The meeting is a bit unexpected. Why is Macron in a hurry to meet Putin, taking into consideration his restrained attitude towards the Russian leader during the electoral campaign? Is it somehow connected to the parliamentary elections in France?
Mr Macron has explicitly said that he wanted “good relations” with Russia. He is definitely a pragmatic man, not someone deeply loaded with ideology as were Mr François Hollande, the former President, or Hollande’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, are they Laurent Fabius or Jean-Marc Ayrault. In this context it is not so surprising that the first foreign leader to be invited to Paris was Mr Putin. By the way, there is right now a sense of competition inside the European Union, and more specifically between France, Germany and Italy to mend fences with Russia and to improve economic relations. This is not to say that there are no differences of view between France and Russia, either about the Middle East or about Ukraine. But these differences, and divergences, are not seen to be an obstacle to improving relations with Russia.
I don’t thing this visit is connected with the parliamentary elections to France at least from the Russian side, even if Mr Macron, now the new President will try to capitalize on this visit to improve the rating of his party for the incoming elections. He needs to strengthen his own personal image as a skilful negotiator, and to make wrong the image on an “inexperienced boy” that has been casted on him by his opponents.
Elena Kleymenova: What topics will be the focus of Putin-Macron bilateral meeting?
Topics to be discussed are to range from economic issues (and we have to understand that these issues are high on the new President’s agenda) to more political ones. These would include the Middle-east (and of course Syria and the fight against terrorism), Ukraine, but also more generally speaking relations between Russia and the EU. One cannot exclude that Emmanuel Macron would want to discuss the issue of supposed Russian “interventions” in the French presidential campaign. But this topic is not be high on Mr Macron’s agenda. I also think that for internal political motivations the French President is to allude to Gay people situation in Chechnya.
Elena Kleymenova: Should we expect any significant progress in bilateral relations as a result of the visit?
Right now, bilateral relations with Russia are severely constrained by the EU policy toward Russia. It will be a test to know if President Macron wants to alleviate the EU constraint and implement a more French-minded policy toward Russia or if he places French foreign policy strictly under the EU frame. The fact that he wanted this visit to take place with some decorum in Versailles is not to be taken as an indication either way. What it’s more, President Macron is to be highly scrutinized for his actions toward Russia both by opponents (and the “Republicain” party, but also the radical left one of Mr Melenchon and the National Front of Marine le Pen are all supporting some improvement in French-Russia relations) and by his supporters (the MODEM of François Bayrou, the Socialist Party or his own party now called LREM). If this visit is to be concluded by a dramatic announcement of improvement in bilateral relations, he will be sharply criticized by his own friends. If the visit is a failure, his opponents will criticize him. My personal bet is on some improvements in bilateral relations, but nothing particularly spectacular. But this doesn’t mean that a general process of improvements could not be launched by this visit, a process that will unfold in the coming months.
Mr Macron, as the new French President is to show first that he has in mind French interests (something which was somewhat lacking in François Hollande), second that he defends principles (but we have to see what principle will come first) and third to use this visit at his political benefit. He has been strongly attacked during the Presidential campaign for his lacks of experience in dealing with international affairs. He will try to show that these attacks were not grounded. To some extent the stakes are very high for him as it is his first experience in worldwide diplomacy and he desperately needs to make a good and durable impression or the image of an “inexperienced boy” will be casted on him.