Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly travelled to Moscow on Monday, 9 September, as part of a Security Advisory Council, also known as the “2 + 2” format. This meeting demonstrated French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire for a rapprochement between France and Russia, a commitment that Macron announced during Vladimir Putin's visit to Brégançon when he proclaimed the need “to tie Russia and Europe back together” and reinvent a Europe that “stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
Russian-French relations specialist, André Filler believes that the current visit by the French ministers to Moscow may be seen as a diplomatic breakthrough that will benefit both nations:
“The current situation, in particular, is due to the fact that in both countries foreign policy is mainly determined by internal factors. That’s the reality, despite the differences. From this point of view, a detente in relations between France and Russia is in the interests of both countries. Both presidents are interested in concretising these goals. Previous attempts failed because before leaders could allow their efforts not to produce concrete results. Today, presidents should change course, it is in their interests”.
Filler noted that Macron needs to recreate his image as a statesman after the Yellow Vests crisis because after the protests “he lost the support of many, including representatives of the left intelligentsia”.
This rapprochement is an opportunity for “Macron to pursue a foreign policy independent of the Anglo-Saxon powers that was historically observed by France in relation to Russia. Relying on his many years of experience in the socialist party recreated by Francois Mitterrand, Jean-Yves Le Drian clearly understands this”, the French expert said.
When it comes to President Putin it is a step towards lifting sanctions that will reassure the middle class, Filler stated: “I should mention the results of the recent municipal elections. The United Russia [party] failed, including in Moscow. Both presidents are required to take decisive action that will calm the middle class in both countries”.
Previous attempts to normalise relations between the countries had left some of the public and political classes in the two states sceptical about the chances of success for a new rapprochement. However, there seems to have been real efforts recently on both sides to converge on several issues.
Macron spoke to Putin on the phone on Sunday, 8 September, ahead of the ministers' meeting and praised the prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. The French president has been calling for a new push to resolve the conflict between Moscow and Kiev.
“Ukraine plays a huge role”, Filler stressed. “It is symbolic that both countries (Russia and Ukraine) managed to overcome the taboo by exchanging prisoners. The fact that both presidents made concessions on such crucial issues confirms their desire to foster a new relationship, even if this does not mean peace and harmony forever and ever”.
When it comes to Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky the expert noted that the “unlikely candidate” supports talks in resolving the dispute between Moscow and Kiev.
“I believe the fact that he does not exclusively play an anti-Russian card (as Poroshenko did) and that he is a supporter of dialogue is his trump card in the negotiations. In Russia, he is not perceived as a creature of the West. This also works in his favour. He’s even hinted that in the future he could reconsider the problem of Crimea in terms of compensation. With regard to the separatist republics, nothing has been decided. But the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format can be revived. They create certain prerequisites, and both sides have already taken the necessary steps”, Filler said.
Indeed, both Putin and Macron have “confirmed that the current momentum will allow for the holding, in the next few weeks, of a summit under the Normandy format in Paris”, the French president’s office said on Sunday.
The Normandy format involves Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France. Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadym Prystayko has also confirmed that President Zelensky is ready for talks: “We are planning to hold this Normandy format meeting in the near future”, he said this week.
After Monday’s talks with his French counterpart, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had listened carefully to France’s position and in particular to President Macron's aim “at shaping European security together with Russia, not without it, or as a counterweight to it”, while also adding that Russia is fully ready for joint cooperation.
For his part, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that despite the remaining differences the timing is right “to work toward reducing distrust”. He added that the “2+2” format is “a good mechanism, a tool that allows dialogue on the most important issues of security and defence”. While Defence Minister Florence Parly stated that “it is important to talk to each other, to avoid misunderstanding and friction”.
Russian-French relations specialist, Mr Filler, also pointed out another important issue for the two sides - cooperation over Iran and adherence to the Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA).
“France needs Russia in this matter, and Russia needs France”, the expert noted.
The Kremlin said on Sunday that both Macron and Putin had discussed the issue and are for “the consolidation of efforts of all the parties concerned to save the JCPOA and observe the agreement in full”.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of André Filler and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.