French MPs to make historical visit to reunited Crimea

© Vasiliy Batanov
A delegation of French lawmakers is coming to Russia to pay a visit to the Crimea – the first such visit since the region’s accession to the Russian Federation in March 2014.

The head of the mission, MP Thierry Mariani said in an interview with Russian business daily Kommersant that it will consist of nine members of the French National Assembly and one senator. Eight members of the delegation represented the center-left “The Republicans” party, led by Nicolas Sarkozy and two more represented centrists and leftists.

The French politician told RT in a telephone interview that he and his colleagues will arrive in Moscow on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, they will meet State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin and after the meeting will travel to the Crimean towns of Sevastopol and Yalta. The lawmakers plan to meet the head of the Crimean government Sergey Aksyonov and Sevastopol Governor Sergey Menyailo, and with ordinary citizens. In addition, the politicians plan to visit the French cultural center in Sevastopol and the French memorial cemetery that dates back to the Crimean war of 1854-55.

French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani © Charles Platiau

Mariani told Russian reporters the mission consisted of two types of lawmakers – some wanted to assess the situation on the Crimean peninsula after personally witnessing it and others – like himself – already recognized the reunification of Crimea and Russia as a historical fact, confirmed by a valid referendum.

A part of us are confident that the reunification was logical – it is useless to struggle with history,” Kommersant quoted the French MP as saying. “Another important thing is that it is the first really meaningful delegation of members from France’s traditional political forces and otherwise. For example, the National Front,” Thierry added.

READ MORE: 100,000 gather in central Moscow to celebrate Crimea reunification

The lawmaker said the visit had not been coordinated with the French authorities, but added the French Foreign Ministry had warned the participants it wouldn’t support the idea.

On Wednesday, the French Foreign Ministry released a statement in which it called the trip a private initiative, saying it was a violation of international law and expressed regret over this fact.

In the Kommersant interview, Mariani confirmed the visit was planned as a private initiative and said French lawmakers were free to make such decisions. He also said the invitation from the Russian side was made by the Russian Peace Foundation, chaired by MP Leonid Slutskiy. Additional support came from the “Franco-Russian Dialogue association” and the State Duma through inter-parliamentary contacts.

In April, a delegation of 20 French lawmakers headed by Thierry Mariani paid a visit to Moscow on Sergey Naryshkin’s invitation. During this visit all its members criticized EU sanctions against Russia. In particular, Mariani called the restrictions “silly and not yielding any positive results.”

French lawmakers said the April visit was a friendship gesture and spoke of similar signals coming from other European governments, who are seeking to mend ties with Russia.

READ MORE: ‘Sanctions against Russia a counterproductive American game’

On Wednesday afternoon, Thierry Mariani told RT he had had a heated discussion with the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who very strongly opposed the idea of French lawmakers visiting Crimea. However, the French MPs told the minister that they were free to travel anywhere they wanted and refused to cancel the trip, he said. Mariani also told RT his delegation didn’t share the anti-Russian sentiments of French officials and that the visit was going to happen.