‘Putin’s French visit cancellation helped France save face’

Members of the United Nations Security Council vote on a draft resolution that demands an immediate end to air strikes and military flights over Syria's Aleppo city, at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., October 8, 2016. © Eduardo Munoz
Putin made things easier for French President Francois Hollande by canceling his visit to France. Hollande is in a difficult position, analysts told RT. How will this latest development influence the relations between Russia and France?

Russian President Vladimir Putin opted out of visiting France in the middle of a diplomatic spat. President Putin was expected in Paris on October 19 to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and attend a Russian art exhibition. France said that it would not participate in the program and its leaders are only interested in meeting Putin for talks on Syria.

There were some events scheduled, including the opening of a Russian cultural and religious center, [and] exhibitions. Unfortunately, those events were struck off the program, so the president decided to cancel his visit to France for now,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

RT asked analysts what this latest development would mean for Russia-France relations.

On one hand, President Hollande “wants to play a major role in international relations,” said Bruno Drweski of France’s National Institute of Languages and Eastern Civilizations. On the other, the French leader does not want to spoil relations with the US and Israel. That puts him in a difficult position, he added. 

However, at the moment, France “doesn’t look as an independent state,” Drweski said.

I’m sure Hollande wanted to have Putin in Paris. But at the same time he wanted to show that he is his own man and he is leading the negotiations,” the analyst said.

However, Hollande couldn’t succeed in that as he “doesn’t understand what Russia is” and that the country is not “a colony state” or the same as it used to be during the 1990s; Russia has changed, Drweski said.

According to the analyst, the French leader did not expect Putin to cancel the visit.

I think Hollande was sure that Russia wanted to talk at any cost and he doesn’t understand that Russia doesn’t talk at any cost. Russia talks only on equal level,” he said.

Tensions between Russia and France increased after Moscow’s anger at the French-drafted UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria, which called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Aleppo, Syria. Russia argued it would serve to aid the Al-Nusra Front (now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and other militant groups.

On Monday, France accused Russia and the Assad government of committing war crimes in Aleppo and threatened to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate.

Independent journalist Robert Harneis said “it’s interesting” that “France put these motions to the Security Council, which was extremely aggressive against Russia on the subject of war crimes in Aleppo.” That move, he said, “clearly made any meeting difficult.

Another question, he said, why it was it France that presented that motion?

Why it should be France? It could have been Britain. After all, Britain and France compete with each other to run after the Americans all the time. So one wonders, whether it was deliberate to make it impossible for this meeting to take place. There is this constant pressure from the Americans to keep Europe away from Russia – that is what I think happened,” Harneis said.

In Harneis’ opinion, Putin “seeing Hollande’s difficulty” and canceling the visit made things easier for the French president, rather than letting both wait until the last minute when Paris would likely drop it or holding “an extremely bad tempered meeting, which would have done nobody any good.

France’s own record isn’t exactly clear of indiscretions. In July, a French airstrike killed 120 civilians in Manbij in Syria, which came further to other civilian casualties of French interventions in half a dozen African countries. Previously, in Libya, France and its NATO allies killed Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi which plunged Libya into chaos.

It wasn’t America who led the attack on Libya, it was France. France having got the UN Security Council motion through, then immediately led the attack, went beyond the terms of that Security Council motion. A lot of people were killed and the consequences have been horrific. Many people in France are aware of that. It would have been very embarrassing for Hollande if Putin had come, because Putin is known for defending himself; when people attack him, he gives a straight answer. I don’t think Hollande in the run up of the elections wanted to have an acrimonious meeting in Paris,” Harneis said.

Martin McCauley, author and Russia analyst agrees that France is in “a very difficult position.”

That explains why Hollande first said that he saw no point in meeting with Putin and later added that he was prepared to talk to Russian leader “at any moment” to discuss Syria.

France would like an agreement with Russia in Syria, “because they are one of those countries, which would like the sanctions, imposed on Russia to be lightened, to be reduced so that they can increase trade and so on,” he told RT. However, “France, if you like, has to go along [with] the US in taking a hardline on Russia in Syria”.

French diplomacy is very nuanced. Therefore, they were looking for some type of settlement, which will improve the humanitarian situation [in Syria], and also lead to a weakening of sanctions against Russia, because they are very keen on that. They want more trade with Russia. So they don’t want this to blow up in a big, big problem and will try and negotiate some kind of exit from it…” McCauley said.

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