14:24 GMT05 March 2021
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    Francois Hollande: Opening Window to Russia

    Red Line
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    French President Francois Hollande brushed off longstanding dispute with Russia paying a surprise visit to Moscow to discuss thorny issues of Russia’s relations with the West at an eye-to-eye meeting with President Putin.

    Studio guest Kyrill Koktysh, Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations with Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Anne Nivat, prominent author from Paris, France, and Dmitry Yakushkin, independent expert, Russia, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.

    What made Francios Hollade to make this unexpected and surprising stop in Moscow?

    Kyrill Koktysh: There are several challenges that Hollande has to face, whether he likes it or not. The first challenge is the Mistrals’ suspended delivery which France should resolve till the end of this year. And Hollande is interested in finding a formula that would allow France to lay these Mistrals to Russia.

    From the other side, he is obviously the loser. His party is losing the popularity and he is going to step down as the President, who was the weakest president in France’s history. And he is going to lose to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. That means that he is interested in gambling, in taking this active game to change the reality, as far as he has the time to do this.

    And the third reason is that this is not a totally new game for him, because it was Hollande who was brave enough to start the Normandy process, when the first negotiations between Putin and Poroshenko took place. And he can continue his line.

    As it is seen from Moscow, Germany starts speaking in the name of whole Europe and France is not satisfied with this, because the French interests are a bit different than the German ones. That means that Hollande is motivated to retain for France the status of a strong European power with its own voice, without the German accent and with the clear French language.

    What I find interesting is that he was moving to Moscow from Kazakhstan. It seems that he is focused on the post-Soviet space. Can you explain that?

    Kyrill Koktysh: This could be great turn for him, because the focus on the post-Soviet space is a growing high. And if you take the Eurasian Union which is going to emerge at the beginning of the next year, it is going to be a new and, because of the European sanctions, a semi-closed market.
    Ironically, this Eurasian Union was initially designed like a copy of the EU – the freedom of movement of goods, of finances, of people and services. But now, due to the European sanctions, it is going to turn into a semi-closed market and this very interesting and highly profitable market will be closed for Europe. And Hollande is one of the first to understand this.

    The Germans also understand the potential, they started to understand a bit earlier. But now Hollande tries to return France on the right track, because he understands that otherwise the competition for the European leadership with Germany will be lost forever. Up till now it was the German economy and the French voice, now we have the German economy and the German voice without France. And the role of France is doubtful.

    And if he succeeds in building a bridge between the EU and the Eurasian Union, then he can really step in as the major winner.

    Kyrill Koktysh: Yes, in this case he and France would be the major winners, because the EU would return the French intellectual tradition. Without this tradition Europe would be a silly country, in my opinion.

    But is there anything from the EU in this at all?

    Kyrill Koktysh: No, of course not. These are his personal ambitions. Now the game is not about the distribution of the income, but the minimization of the losses. And under these circumstances France is going to lose much more than Germany and much more than other countries. This would diminish the role of France inside the EU. So, resolving the France’s problem of its role inside the EU and the problem of France’s ambitions to be one of the most important think tanks for the united Europe, defending this ambition Hollande can save himself and can turn into a great politician for France.

    Dmitry Yakushkin: It reminds me of the role France tried to play in the 1960s. It tried to regain its prewar glory and positioned itself as a country between the East and the West. I worked in France for many years, and if you look at the European countries like the Great Britain, Germany, even Spain or Italy, France was always a country which didn’t resemble the others. It was not exactly a capitalist country, it was not exactly a Western country and sometimes I had a feeling that Mr. de Gaulle was considered to be practically like the Soviet leader. We were very mild in criticizing France for its internal problems, for its social problems.

    Of course, there was a very strong communist party in France, but we tried to position France as a country that differs. And this was reflected in the special relationship between the political leaderships of the Soviet Union and France. France tried to be an intermediary between the East and the West. And when the Détente started in the 1970s, France was one of the leaders of this movement.

    If we look at the realities of today’s world, some are saying that Hollande is trying to play a role which was initially played by Merkel in the relations with Moscow. What are the stakes of Hollande?

    Dmitry Yakushkin: France had and still has very difficult problems to resolve and it doesn’t depend on Mr. Hollande’s ability to solve them. I think that no one could have solved them easily, because these are kind of eternal problems. I know France very well and, basically, you can summarize the problems in the following sentence – France wants to be modern and wants to be economically as strong, as its neighbour Germany, but, at the same time, France wants to conserve its way of life, its very important social system. And this dilemma has been on the agenda for the last 20 years.

    France wants to be France, the French people want to live the life of the French people (which is considerably different from, for example, the life of Germany or Great Britain), but, at the same time, it wants to be economically effective. And there is a huge immigration problem, there are economic problems like the unemployment of the young people. And you cannot solve these problems in one day, and maybe even during one presidential term.
    In this situation a window for him is open to play a strong card in the foreign policy field. And I think it is absolutely logical for him to take this card. And he has already shown his active wish to be an intermediary between the so-called East and the West, to be in the center of this dialog during the celebrations of the opening of the Second Front. Now he demonstrated this again. And I think it makes our foreign policy world more interesting. It is absolutely logical on his part and I wish him all the success in this case.

    Hollande is trying to play a peacemaker, are his foreign policy efforts making him any more popular at all?

    Anne Nivat: People in France don’t really care about the French policy. But of course, François Hollande did very well in organizing this meeting. And he sort of showed that he had the upper hand in deciding about the meeting, and he showed that no other Western country was capable of doing it. We have Angela Merkel and she cannot talk like that with Vladimir Putin anymore.

    So, apparently, what he wanted was to show that he is capable of doing it. But that doesn’t mean that he has the solution for Ukraine. It just shows how much France is worried about what is happening in Ukraine, especially after the Vladimir Putin’s last speech.

    Do you believe that his efforts could at least help to lessen the tension in our relations?

    Anne Nivat: Of course, it can do that easily. That’s what the diplomacy is all about. But I think that the important message during this meeting was that France apparently doesn’t want the total adhesion of Ukraine to NATO, which is wanted by the USA and Canada. So, that is something very big that President Hollande had to say and to repeat to Vladimir Putin.

    And that was very important, but my personal worry, as the specialist on Russia and the French-Russian relations, is that I don’t see anyone in François Hollande’s entourage who are big specialists of Ukraine and who could concretely advise him what to do next and how to have a better influence in this topic.

    But would Hollande’s visit to Moscow help?

    Anne Nivat: I don’t know what François Hollande is really capable of in terms of the foreign politics and his capacity of influencing Russia, I really have my doubts. But what I think is important is that France, by doing so, is showing that it refuses to see its relationship with Russia become as bad, as the US-Russia or the Europe-Russia relationships. As François Hollande said to Vladimir Putin at Vnukovo, he said – he doesn’t want a new wall erected between Russia and the EU. And that was the key message of this meeting.

    European Union, France, Mistral, Francois Hollande, Russia
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