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Putin to Explore Options for a French-Russian Thaw in Paris Visit

Macron could find himself with a better friend in Moscow than either in Washington or Berlin

The Kremlin made a surprise announcement on Monday that President Vladimir Putin will be travelling to Paris on May 29 at the invitation of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

The occasion is an exhibition by Russia’s State Hermitage Museum at the Grand Trianon palace at Versailles, to mark the 300th anniversary of Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717.

The Russian-French relations have been at freezing point lately. In the recent French elections, Macron pointedly refused to admire Putin, unlike his far-right opponent Le Pen.

In turn, Russian media caricatured Macron as ‘anti-Christ’ and poked at his marriage with a woman 26 years senior.

Besides, there was the incessant Anglo-American whispering campaign that Russia was interfering in the French election. Le Pen was a popular figure among the Moscow elites too.

Thus, a frosty relationship between Macron and Putin was foreseen as inevitable. But it seems they are letting bygones be bygones and are anxious to turn over a new leaf. Putin would have sized up Macron as someone he can (and should) do business with.

Macron’s equations with US President Donald Trump remain indifferent. Trump had voiced enthusiasm for Le Pen and in turn Barack Obama openly endorsed Macron’s candidature. Macron is a votary of western liberalism and he and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel are the flag carriers of the opposition to right-wing populism in the European political landscape.

Merkel will benefit out of Macron’s magnificent election victory in her own campaign to get another mandate as chancellor in the upcoming October poll for the Bundestag.

Having said that, Macron is both an ally and a potential adversary for Merkel. Both believe in the raison d’etre of the European Union but have vastly different conceptions in regard of the EU’s evolution.

Again, Macron disagrees with Merkel’s approach to the refugee problem. On the other hand, Merkel is hopeful of finding commonalities with Macron when it comes to her hard line towards Russia.

Most importantly, Merkel’s unspoken ambition to make Berlin the European capital will run into Macron’s passionate advocacy of robust EU institutions in Brussels. (Spiegel has a wonderful piece on the Merkel-Macron dalliance – Frenemy in the Making?)

Unsurprisingly, Putin is wading into a bay with stunning coral reefs. Of course, he is known to be a strong swimmer (and scuba diver) and can be trusted to make the most out of the visit to Paris.

Putin’s main intention will be to defrost Russian-French ties, which is important, given the great fluidity in the western alignments today. Putin is bound to explore what is there in it for Russia. France is a powerful voice in Europe and historically an ally of Russia.

Second, with Francois Hollande out of power, France’s ardour for Qatar, forged in the smithy of the scandalous deal for the Rafale fighter aircraft (and other arms deals) may cool down.

Macron has a clean image and has vowed to come down heavily on corruption and sleaze. In a devastating statement, Macron said, “I will put an end to the agreements that favor Qatar in France. I think there was a lot of complacencies…”

The French press reported that on Monday, Macron’s Justice Minister Francois Bayrou held talks with leading anti-corruption organizations Transparency International and Anticor.

Simply put, if Macron dials down France’s ties with its Rafale customer, Qatar, Paris is no longer obliged to serve the Saudi-Qatari interests in the Syrian conflict.

Despite the terrorist attacks in Paris, Hollande was virulently opposed to the Russian intervention in Syria. Conceivably, Putin will persuade Macron to play its due role as peacemaker in Syria. (In terms of the League of Nations mandate following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, France was the governing country and trustee in charge of Syria during 1923-1946.)

It will be a political earthquake if Macron changes France’s disposition toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but then, that will be looking ahead of time.

Meanwhile, France is also a member of the Normandy format on Ukraine. Suffice to say, Putin is doing the smart thing by rebooting Russia’s European options. Russian foreign policy has been far too heavily preoccupied with the Trump administration. A course correction is useful.

At any rate, in the civil war conditions in Washington, Russian-American normalization can only be at a glacial pace, no matter what Moscow desires or Trump seeks. The US’ leadership role is also diminishing by the day amidst the chaos enveloping American politics and the weakening of the Trump presidency.

Source: Indian Punchline

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