Sarkozy to clarify French position at Kremlin talks

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on a two-day visit to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart. Yesterday he hinted that the positions of the two countries are getting closer on key international issues. More details are expected to be given

A few contentious issues are expected to dominate discussions, including Iran’s nuclear programme, the future status of Kosovo and the issue of the stalled Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between Russia and the EU.

The two leaders are also due to take part in the opening of a memorial to the French pilots of Normandie-Niemen air regiment at Layfortovo Park in eastern Moscow. A similar monument was unveiled in Le Bourget last year, during Mr Putin's visit to France.

The two-day visit comes immediately after Mr Sarkozy met with leaders from Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin at the G8  
                          summit in Heiligendamm
Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm

The relationship between Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy seemed in good shape at the Heiligendamm summit in Germany in July. But having blossomed in the summer, will it continue to give fruit in the autumn?

Pierre Lorraine author of “The Mysterious Rise of Vladimir Putin” says that Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign was more anti-Russian than anti-Putin. 

“He made a number of anti Russian statements on several issues like Chechnya, for instance.  However, today he is President and he must take into account the international situation,” Pierre Lorraine noted.

The reality is that he needs Russia on side if he is going to continue championing a new, more united Europe, two years after France said ‘non’ to a European constitution.

The EU however is still struggling to renew ties with Russia after the ten year Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, (PCA) expired. The agreement is meant to promote shared norms on security, democracy and economic freedoms, but the partnership is in trouble.

“I think the most interesting item in the exchanges between the two presidents will be the new treaty between the EU and Russia. The present one is expiring this year, and the beginning of a search for a new text is blocked by Poland,” commented Yury Rubinsky, Head of French Studies, Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

While Vladimir Gutnik, the head of the Centre of European Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes the stable relations between Russia and France are unlikely to change.

“The new president of France is in fact pursuing a foreign policy which seeks to preserve relations with Russia, established throughout the last decade. And relations between Russia and France are different from relations between other countries as they’re predictable and do not fluctuate much. That’s why there are unlikely to be any changes on either side,” he said in an interview to the RIA Novosti news agency, adding that “the pragmatism of the new French president could play a positive role in resolving such problems as the Middle East and the Iranian nuclear program where our two countries can play a key role, and of course the problem of the Kosovo divide”.

Even starting talks with Russia about a new agreement seems impossible. Poland continues to block talks while an 18-month Russian ban on Polish meat continues. Moscow says it is for hygiene reasons – Warsaw says it is political.

Well before arriving in Moscow, Nicolas Sarkozy was courting Russia's openly wary neighbours, meeting with the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republics. The two countries support U.S. plans to place a missile defence shield on their land.  Moscow opposes the plan, saying it threatens Russia's security.

Mr Sarkozy also met Ukraine's western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko, fresh from parliamentary elections against his rival Viktor Yanukovich who has widespread support in Ukraine’s ethnic Russian regions.

The meetings, say French officials, were not deliberately timed.