Russian President Putin’s unexpected trip to France, where he was received by the newly elected French President, Emmanuel Macron, must constitute one of the strangest meetings in international relations.
Prior to the meeting Macron admitted that it was impossible to solve international problems without Russia. As is however usually the case with Western leaders who say this, Macron followed up this statement of the obvious not with any indication of any willingness to meet the Russians halfway, but with a long cascade of accusations and demands.
Thus on Ukraine Macron spoke of a possible escalation of sanctions against Russia if the situation worsens there
I confirm what I said earlier on this issue: if necessary, sanctions may be strengthened but only in case of escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. If de-escalation does not happen, then there will be sanctions. I wish de-escalation exactly occurred
In the case of Syria Macron spoke grandly of France’s ‘red lines’
It is necessary to seek an inclusive political solution…..Any use of chemical weapons [in Syria] will see a prompt response [from Paris]
Macron is even reported to have said that France will ‘monitor’ the rights situation of gay people in Chechnya – though it is not obvious what France can do about it – and capped his comments with an extraordinary tirade against Sputnik and RT.
Apparently there were agreements on setting up some sort of anti terrorist liaison centre and something which will be called the Russian-French Trianon Dialogue civil forum. These are the sort of things leaders agree when they have nothing substantive to talk about, and nothing else to show.
Macron’s threats are empty. The question of whether sanctions against Russia are ever increased will be made in Washington and Berlin, not in Paris, and if the US or the Germans ever decide to lift the sanctions France will have no option but to agree regardless of what happens in Ukraine. The events of August 2013, when President Obama called off a military strike on Syria following the Ghouta chemical attack, leaving France’s then President Hollande high and dry, shows that France is in no position to set ‘red lines’ or make threats independently of the US in Syria.
Whether the French public is impressed by all this grandiose talk – as if the France of today were the France of Louis XIV or Napoleon, not the diminished power it actually is – is hard to say. Macron anyway undermined whatever impression of French grandeur he wanted to make by saying that he would “report” about the meeting to Angela Merkel, showing where the real power in Europe lies.
Certainly Putin won’t have been impressed. On the contrary, if Macron spoke to him like this in private – and all the indications are that he did – Putin will have decided that there is little to be gained from seeking a dialogue with the new French President, who it turns out is every bit as hostile to Russia as he appears to be.
This begs the question of why Macron decided to meet with Putin at all. The ostensible purpose of the meeting was to commemorate Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717. However there was no indication until a few weeks ago that Putin was planning to attend this commemoration, so presumably the suggestion for the visit, and the proposal to convert it into a summit, came from Macron. The Kremlin’s brief statement confirming Putin’s meeting with Macron notably confirms that the meeting happened at the invitation of Macron.
Possibly Macron overestimates his ability to impress Putin. As a young man who has come very far and very fast he might be over-confident about his diplomatic abilities, and might think that by ‘setting Putin straight’ in a one-to-one meeting he might achieve some sort of breakthrough in relations between France and Russia. If so then before long he will discover otherwise, and if he is wise he will come to realise that it is not in his own or in France’s interests for him to continue to overplay his hand in this way.
As for Putin, the meeting will have enabled him to get a measure of the new French President. It is unlikely he was especially impressed by what he saw and heard.