‘Moscow is being obstructive’: French PM Valls doubles down on Russia policy after criticism

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. © Eric Feferberg
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended France’s new tougher line on Russia, which led to the cancellation of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, after being roundly condemned for ratcheting up discord by French opposition groups.

“Russia has chosen an obstructive attitude and from our point of view this stance is unjustifiable,” Valls said during a weekly session at the dispatch box in the National Assembly, where he was questioned by Communist deputy André Chassaigne.

“Without the massive support of Russia, the Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad would not be able to carry out this battle on Aleppo. We call on Russia to assume its responsibilities as a major power.”

French President Francois Hollande. © Philippe Wojazer

Next week, Vladimir Putin was scheduled to open a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and visit an art exhibition alongside French President Francois Hollande, in what was intended to be a diplomatic show of bonhomie between the two leaders.

But on Monday, Hollande said that he would not meet with Putin during his visit, other than for talks on Syria. The Socialist President also called for Russia’s actions during the battle of Aleppo to be examined by the International Criminal Court, and raised the prospect of further sanctions for Moscow, which is already under several restrictions from the EU over Ukraine.

Following the snub, Putin cancelled his visit, and on Wednesday accused France of “whipping up anti-Russian hysteria in the media” and kowtowing to US “foreign, or possibly even domestic policy interests.”

Valls admitted that relations with Moscow had suffered and promised deputies that Paris would “continue dialogue with Moscow.”

Since the start of the week, Hollande’s embattled government has been under attack from both political flanks in France.

© Abdalrhman Ismail

“How can we hope to change the situation if we only communicate through statements, take offense, and seek to enter a new Cold War? This is irresponsible,” said former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping to become the official center-right candidate to run in next year’s presidential race. “I do not approve of the current policy towards Russia. I have disagreements with Putin, but it is France’s and Europe’s responsibility – and it is in their interest – to conduct a dialogue with Russia.”

Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon accused Hollande of “undermining France’s international credibility” with “chaotic foreign policy,” and said that his latest hard stance “allowed the Kremlin to turn him into a joke.” Fillon, who served under Sarkozy, reminded Hollande that the French resistance even allied with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazism.

Parties to the left of the ruling Socialists, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Party, who argues that even existing Russia sanctions should be dropped, also spoke out against Hollande’s political initiative.