‘France wants to mend ties with Russia, asking for ‘progress’ on Ukraine to save face’

French President Francois Hollande prepares to answer journalists' questions during a live interview on French radio station France Inter on January 5, 2015 in Paris. (AFP Photo)
France intends to take a lead in de-escalating the confrontation with Russia as a face-saving measure while the EU is facing big economic challenges, John Laughland, Director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, told RT.

RT:Francois Hollande on Monday said that sanctions against Russia “must stop now.” What does this statement from the French leader mean for the upcoming talks?

John Laughland: I think that means that France is intending to take a lead in deescalating the confrontation with Russia and in seeing an end to sanctions, in seeing the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier ships and also in seeing a de facto – at least – recognition of the annexation of Crimea.

I said this back in December when Francois Hollande, the French president visited Vladimir Putin on the way back from Kazakhstan. It was clear that he was taking the lead then, taking a lead against Germany and against Mrs. Merkel of who many people thought that she would be pro-Russian force in Europe. She’s turned out to be very opposite. And we are seeing France assuming a relatively traditional position now in foreign policy and reassuming and reasserting its traditional friendship with Russia. So I’m relatively optimistic about these latest statements.

RT:Hollande added that progress has to be made at the talks. Moscow has been actively engaged in the peace process in eastern Ukraine. The latest talks saw hundreds of prisoners returned by both Kiev and eastern militias, but the sanctions still remain. So what exactly constitutes progress?

JL: He is saying that he wants to sell the Mistral, he wants to get rid of the problem, he would like, as he said, the end of the sanctions and so on. He assured himself, extremely understanding for the Russian position. He didn’t mention Crimea. He implied that Crimean annexation would be accepted, and he showed understanding as well for Russian opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine. When he says “progress” I regard that as purely a face-saving phrase.

The fact is that Ukraine is off the headlines now. We haven’t had much news from Ukraine for many weeks now in the Western media. Quite frankly it is off people’s radar screen. Providing it stays off the radar screen, providing it stays off headlines it would be a good time – if that is indeed his intention – to move on from this unfortunate episode.

AFP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand

RT:Hollande might be not the only person thinking that way. He wouldn’t be risking himself saying this kind of things if he was alone, would he?

JL: Who knows! I’ve mentioned earlier that Mrs. Merkel has shown herself to be very aggressively anti-Russian. She fought the European election campaign last May on a very anti-Russian ticket. And she’s turned out to be one of the most hawkish leaders in Europe. Britain as well is very hawkish and very anti-Russian. We’ll see if he can pull it off. I think it is little early to say.

I think the other point is that the whole notion of France or any other European countries wielding a big stick is a little bit absurd. France is in economic collapse, Hollande’s economic program is unraveling as he himself admitted in the same interview. And the European leaders are faced with much bigger challenges than the confrontation with Russia. They are faced with a challenge of Greece leaving the Euro, of the UK leaving the European Union and so on.

So the idea that these people who are complete failures in their own terms and who are surveying a field of ruins in the terms of their own policy can wield a big stick against Russia or anybody else is a bit laughable. And that may also be a factor in this recent change.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.