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French commentators say country's attitude to Russia unchanged

MOSCOW, October 9 (RIA Novosti) - Despite critical statements from President Nicolas Sarkozy on Russia, Paris's line toward the country remains unchanged, French political commentators said Tuesday

Speaking at a Moscow-Paris video linkup organized by RIA Novosti, Le Monde's Daniel Vernet said: "For the French president, tough statements are his ordinary style of political discourse, but our analysts have never viewed such statements as attacks against Russia."

He said Sarkozy "always holds tough discussions, even with European partners of France, not to mention his statements on domestic political issues."

The commentator said Sarkozy's victory in the May presidential elections caused a shift in foreign policy on all directions, not only on Russia.

"Now making foreign policy decisions will become more pragmatic. In particular, France will cooperate with Russia in fields where both countries' interests coincide, and this applies to both politics and economics," he said.

Thomas Gomart, an analyst at the French Institute of International Relations, said France is still interested in developing relations with Russia both on a bilateral basis on through the European Union.

He said Paris is "closely following the events, and trying to prevent statements and policy of new EU members from harming the development of normal relations with Russia."

"France cannot fail to be concerned over the actions of Baltic countries and Poland, aimed at frustrating constructive dialogue with Russia," Gomart said.

However, Gomart concerned that Sarkozy's victory in the presidential elections spelled a downturn in France-Russia relations.

"Paris's tone has become much more critical," he said, adding that this concerned both Russia's domestic and foreign policies.

One of the most acute differences in policy outlook recently has been the issue of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo. Paris favors granting the province independence, while Moscow has said that giving Kosovo sovereignty would violate Serbia's territorial integrity and set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including those in the former Soviet Union.

Another point of tension has been Iran. The United States and France have urged tougher penalties for the Islamic Republic, suspected of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, while Russia is against the immediate imposition of new sanctions.

In an interview before becoming president in May 2007, Sarkozy said, "If you asked me which of the [two] countries France would have closer relations with - the United States or Russia, known to us for its Chechen war, 'the U.S.' would be my answer."

Speaking before a group of French ambassadors, the French president recently said "Russia is imposing its return to the international arena, brutally using its trump cards, such as gas and oil."

During his recent visit to Bulgaria, Sarkozy called Russia a country that "complicates the resolution of major world problems."

However, at his first meeting with the new French leader at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, Putin received a hearty greeting. Sarkozy characterized the Russian leader as a politician who was "open for dialogue."

Sarkozy, 52, a former interior minister, known for heavy-handed policies on security and migration, was elected French president on May 6, 2007, after defeating the Socialist Party leader, Segolene Royal, in the presidential runoff.

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