- France’s new President Macron and Russian leader Putin have had a ‘frank’ first meeting underscoring their ‘disagreements’.
- Macron and Putin met in Paris against the backdrop of an event for the 300th anniversary since Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717.
- Meeting came after until recently Putin overtly backed Macron’s far-right rival Le Pen for the French Presidency.
- Macron dominated the joint press conference, often speaking for both leaders, leaving observers to take Putin’s silence for acquiescence.
- Thorny issues on the meeting’s agenda have been the wars in Ukraine and Syria as well as the alleged persecution of gays in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
- In their joint press conference, Macron lambasted Kremlin-linked Russian media RT and Sputnik as sources of ‘lying propaganda’.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met for the first time, achieving what can be described as a “cold détente” – demonstrating a respectable tone in spite of numerous differences and thorny issues.
Macron and Putin’s first meeting in the Palace of Versailles which hosts an exhibition dedicated to the 300th anniversary since Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to Paris back in 1717.
The first Macron – Putin meeting was also uneasy because the Russian President openly supported Macron’s rival, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in France’s 2017 presidential race.
Macron, on the other hand, complained a number of times of being the target of Russian hackers and fake news spread out by news outlets linked to the Kremlin.
The Russian press has described Macron with epithets such as “gay psychopath” and “Rothschild puppet’ who hates both France and Russia.
Shortly before the second round of the French elections, Macron’s staff banned two of Moscow’s international mouthpieces, RT and Sputnik News, from his news conferences.
Two days before the runoff, the night of Friday, May 5, hacked email messages from Macron’s campaign were published by a user on the “Politically Incorrect” board of the anonymous forum 4chan, and investigative journalists have found traces linking the hack to Russian hackers.
Earlier in the French presidential race, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had explicitly warned the Kremlin not to meddle in the French elections.
US Senator Richard Burr, the head of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, had warned that Russia was meddling in the French election just as it did in the US presidential campaign last year.
A survey found that almost 20% of the relevant links shared by French people on social media were fake news connected to Russia.
Ukraine, Syria, Chechnya
The first meeting between France’s President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin featured a lot of references to the centuries of friendship between the two nations but also exposed the profound differences between the two leaders, France24 reported.
Macron and Putin held a joint press conference on Monday after a sit-down meeting at the Palace of Versailles against the backdrop of the exhibition commemorating the 300th anniversary of the 1717 diplomatic visit to Paris and surrounding areas by Peter the Great, possibly the most important modernizer in Russia’s history who tried to bring his country closer to Europe.
In his opening remarks, Macron stressed Peter the Great’s openness to and engagement with Europe and European ideals, making an unspoken but not-so-subtle comparison with the nationalistic Putin.
Putin in turn talked about the dynamic economic relationship between Russia and France and noted that no French company doing business in Russia had left as a result of the sanctions that the West imposed against Putin’s government over Russia’s encroachments against Ukraine, namely, the 2014 Crimea annexation and the ongoing war in Donbass, which is a pro-Russian insurgency.
Regardless of their chilly opening, both Macron and Putin took a programmatic approach to their meeting announcing their common will to fight terror and discussed exchanging official delegations to pursue that goal.
They also agreed to return to the negotiating table on Ukraine. Macron said he wanted to revive the “Normandy format,” which includes the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, and that Putin shared in that desire.
In February 2015, the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine – Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko – negotiated the so called Minsk II Agreement, under which warring parties are to stick to a full ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons from the frontline to establish a security zone, and release all hostages on the basis of an “all for all” exchange.
The Minsk II ceasefire deal has been broken many times on the 400 km (250-mile) frontline between the Ukrainian troops and the forces of the so called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics established in the rebel-controlled zones.
Thus, in essence the war in Donbass has become a “frozen conflict” with “hot” fighting. A recent teleconference among Putin, Merkel, Hollande, and Poroshenko, the so called Normandy Four, or Normandy Format, underscored the lack of progress on ending the ongoing war.
The war in Eastern Ukraine has resulted in some 10,000 deaths, and millions of displaced persons.
The younger Macron dominated the joint press conference, often speaking for both leaders, leaving observers to take Putin’s silence for acquiescence, France24 points out.
Macron said that Putin promised to tell him “the whole truth” about a reported crackdown on gay men in Chechnya and that Putin told him that he had taken several initiatives to determine if allegations that police had arrested and tortured gay men were true. Putin did not comment on the matter.
Macron said that he wanted to set up a working group between France and Russia to find a way to resolve the ongoing civil war in Syria in which Russia, as well as Iran, have saved the regime of struggling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while France has been part of the international coalition fighting the ISIS terror group, and has also been firmly opposed to Assad staying in power.
Again Putin said nothing, leaving it unclear if Macron was simply expressing his own desires or if the two had actually come to an agreement.
While Macron said he hoped France and Russia could open up channels to discuss a solution to that crisis, he stated that chemical attacks (such as the April 4 attack with chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province) would be a “red line” for France and would result in immediate reprisals.
French-Russian relations reached one of their lowest points in October 2016 when then French President and Macron’s political mentor, Francois Hollande, said Russia’s actions in supporting Assad during the attacks on Aleppo could amount to war crimes, and those responsible could be held accountable.
The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 as protest demonstrations against the Assad regime. Since then it has seen massive international involvement and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and has resulted in nearly 500,000 casualties, over 4 million refugees, and over 7 million internally displaced people.
Alleged Russian Meddling in France’s Elections
When asked about allegations that attempts to hack the Macron campaign’s computer systems had originated in Russia, a visibly piqued Putin said he could not comment on speculations.
“Maybe they were Russian hackers, maybe they were not,” he said.
When asked about Russian meddling in the French election, Putin said the subject had not come up during their meeting and that Macron had shown no interest in talking about it.
Macron said nothing during the exchange, but when asked later why he had banned journalists belonging to Russian media outlets from his campaign, he exhibited “the unflinching directness he is quickly becoming known for.”
“During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence that on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign,” he said sharply.
“They behaved like organs of influence, of propaganda and of lying propaganda,” the French President added.
Macron was candid in his assessment of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It was an exchange that was extremely frank, direct, with a lot of things that were said. We have disagreements, but at least we talked about them,” the French leader declared.