Russia opens culture center in Paris following Putin visit snub

Russia’s culture minister replaced President Putin as the guest of honor at the opening ceremony of a Russian spiritual and cultural center in Paris. Putin’s visit to the French capital was postponed at the last moment amid conflict over Syria.

Construction on the center, which is legally part of the Russian embassy in France, with all corresponding immunities, began in 2013 and cost about €90 million to complete.

The four-building complex located near the Pont de l’Alma bridge in Paris’ 7th arrondissement includes a Christian Orthodox church, a Russian-French elementary school, an exhibition center, and a church administration building complete with living quarters for staff members.

Minister Vladimir Medinsky was the guest of honor at Wednesday’s opening ceremony, acting in place of President Vladimir Putin. The president was supposed to visit France, but the Elysee Palace chose to cut the program for his visit short at the last moment in an apparent gesture of protest against Russia’s veto of a French-sponsored draft resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council. The opening of the cultural center was among the events the French wanted to axe. Russia responded by postponing the visit altogether.

Former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who is a member of the EU parliament, called for an improvement in Franco-Russian dialogue at the opening ceremony of the Russian spiritual and cultural center in Paris.

“I am thrilled to finally inaugurate this magnificent cultural center… at the heart of our district, close to the Eiffel Tower,” Dati said in an interview with RT, adding that the event will draw Russia and France together “in the direction of peace and brotherhood.”

Dati noted the “extremely serious situation” in Syria, stressing that the world should discuss the Syrian crisis with Russia. 

“We [France] should have received Vladimir Putin [in Paris],” she said, apparently referring to Putin’s recently postponed visit to France, adding “we should discuss international issues, [the situation] in Syria with Putin. What is happening in Syria is too serious not to discuss it with Russia.”

Putin, who has decided to visit Berlin instead, hailed the opening of the Paris center.

“The creation of this unique complex is visible proof of the strength of cultural and humanitarian ties between France and Russia, and is testament to our mutual drive for continued constructive dialogue,” he said.

Putin added that while completing the paperwork for the project was not easy, the contribution of the French government helped to meet the initial deadline.