Nice’s mayor to visit Crimea amidst Paris’ discontent

The mayor of the French Mediterranean city of Nice will visit Crimea to renew a longstanding cooperation agreement with the city of Yalta. The French government decried the visit’s importance, dubbing it “an initiative of one of the local politicians.”

Nice, a renowned holiday resort on the Mediterranean, and Yalta, a coastal gem on the Black Sea, have been sister cities for over half a century and are set to continue their close ties despite the political rift between EU and Russia, since the Crimean Peninsula reunited with the latter almost two years ago.

Close contacts between the two cities have been reinstated thanks to Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who invited a delegation from Yalta to France to sign a memorandum on continuing partnership in keeping with the original agreement signed in 1960.

The Russian delegation spent almost a week in the French city, from February 26 to March 1.

Estrosi has agreed to visit Crimea, although the peninsula has not been recognized by France as part of Russia.

“Agreements have been reached on the reciprocal visit of the Nice mayor to Crimea, to Yalta, with the goal of signing a cooperation agreement. The approximate date of the visit is the latter half of May,” local administration head Andrey Rostenko told TASS.

French Deputy Foreign Minister Alexandre Georgini has made a point that French government has nothing to do with the mayor’s visit.

“France’s stance is clear and consistent: along with the European Union and the international community, France does not recognize the unlawful annexation of Crimea,” Georgini said, stressing that Estrosi’s initiative “has nothing to do” with the French government.

Estrosi, meanwhile, reassured the local French news that nothing can break the ties between two cities.

“Whatever happened in history, Nice and Yalta have always been close friends. This is also true today, when Crimea became one of Russia's republics. The signing of this letter of intent is an opportunity to strengthen Franco-Russian friendship between Nice and Russia,” he said, Azur TV reported.

Estrosi expressed hope that the ties between the two cities could boost cooperation in a number of areas, including culture, sport, science, tourism, education and environment protection.

The agreement has not come as a big surprise to French politician and member of the French National Assembly for French residents overseas, Thierry Mariani, who said "it follows the logic of what Christian Estrosi has always defended."

The French city mayor "is someone who has always been committed to relations with Russia, who is pragmatic, who is struggling – as I am – for the lifting of sanctions against Russia today," Mariani told RT France. "I can only congratulate him, because he is one step closer to a return to a normal situation," he added.

Crimea has officially been recognized as Russian territory by two countries, Abkhazia and Nicaragua, but more than 10 foreign delegations have visited Crimea since it was accepted into the Russian Federation in late March 2014.

French lawmakers led by Thierry Mariani became the very first foreign politicians to visit Crimea after reunification with Russia in the summer of 2015. Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi graced the peninsula with his presence last autumn, arranging a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin there in September 2015.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Lega Nord (North League) party, and Kimura Mitsuhiro, the leader of the Japanese socio-political organization Issuikai, have also visited Crimea.