Russian-French connection sans Sarkozy? ‘C’est la vie!’
Alexey Makarkin, first vice-president of the Center for Political Technologies, suggested that Europe, which is presently struggling to contain a financial crisis in many of its floundering member states, is not as “enthusiastic” about Russia as before.
"The West is not as enthusiastic about Russia as Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder or Silvio Berlusconi used to be,” Makarkin said. “In this light, Francois Hollande will hardly differ much from Nicolas Sarkozy. He may place emphasis (on other issues) but the basic line will be the same.”
Hollande, capitalizing on Sarkozy’s failure to nip an economic crisis in the bud, has won the most votes in the first round of voting that put him into a runoff with the conservative incumbent.
In the event that Francois Hollande – who has never held political office – emerges victorious in the runoff election against Sarkozy, it would be unlikely to alter Russia’s present policy with France.
“Hollande is a rather pragmatic politician,” Makarkin noted. “He may defeat Sarkozy in the runoff election with a high degree of probability, yet we should hardly anticipate any dramatic change [from such a result].”
Sarkozy has proven to be a reliable partner with Russia in the past.
In a meeting at the Elysee Palace in early 2010, for example, Sarkozy confirmed that France was negotiating with Russia over the sale of four Mistral-class warships – a deal estimated at about $2 billion. More importantly, perhaps, the agreement represented the first deal of its kind between a NATO member state and Moscow.
On the other hand, Makarkin reminded that at the height of the Georgia-Russia conflict in August 2008, in which Sarkozy played a mediating role, the French leader’s views were tainted by Western interests.
"The relationship with Sarkozy has not been easy,” the political analyst conceded. “The French president played an important mediating role in the military conflict with Georgia in 2008. Yet he had a definite mission and expressed the interests of the West…”
The conflict in the South Caucasus, sparked by a Georgian military attack on South Ossetia, led to a wave of anti-Russian sentiment built on slanted Western news reports. This seems to have colored Sarkozy’s attitude toward those dramatic eight days.
Arguing that “Sarkozy acted exclusively as a representative of the West,” Makarkin added that Hollande would have acted “the same,” albeit in a different style.
“Let us say [Hollande] is a less emotional person. He would not have rushed to Moscow and Tbilisi, but would have sent somebody there and would have stayed close to the phone in Paris himself," Makarkin said.
The Russian analyst, borrowing from Moscow’s historical experiences with French politicians, offered a peek at how Russia-France relations may evolve in the event of a left-wing victory.
"[Hollande] is less charismatic than Sarkozy,” Makarkin noted. “And he is a Socialist. Moscow has had some experience, mostly from the Soviet era, of dealing with Socialist presidents.”
The Russian analyst then pointed to the bilateral relations between France and Soviet Russia during the presidency of the Socialist Francois Mitterrand (who served as French president from May 21, 1981 until May 17, 1995).
Markarkin summed up the relationship, saying that “different things happened, but the experience was rather more positive than negative."
Moscow and Paris will have to wait a bit longer to see if history repeats itself, especially since Hollande is not the only French politician giving Sarkozy a headache.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of National Front Party and daughter of party founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, took third place after Sunday's first-round election. Her party has attracted a large following, wooing voters in an economically-difficult period with its tough anti-immigration message.