Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
The French President’s statement that he is hesitant about whether to meet with Putin, and the subsequent cancellation of the planned October 19 visit of the Russian leader sparked fierce controversy.
French President Francois Hollande and the government appointed by him are under serious attack for the contradictory position on the failed visit of the Russian head of state. Attacks by the leaders of opposition parties and presidential candidates in the upcoming French elections are concentrated around the thesis that Paris closely follows the foreign policy strategy of the US in Syria, without taking into account its national interests, and that with the lack of cooperation with Russia, Paris fails to put France in a favorable diplomatic position. Tensions arose due to the statement of French President Francois Hollande before a local TV channel in which he expressed uncertainty about whether he could meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the light of what is happening in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Hollande’s position is associated with a UN Security Council resolution proposed by the French Permanent Representative to the Security Council of the UN, which calls for cessation of air strikes over militants fighting against the Syrian government in Syria’s second largest city Aleppo. Russia vetoed the proposal and deposited a similar resolution, but without the part to stop the bombing, which Damascus and Moscow viewed as a “gift” to terrorists in Aleppo, headed by the “Al Qaeda” branch “Al-Nusra Front.”
Francois Hollande’s statement that he is “asking himself whether he should meet with Vladimir Putin” who planned to visit Paris on October 19 for talks with his French counterpart about Ukraine and Syria, unleashed a wave of criticism and condemnation from a number of French politicians. Former French prime minister (2007-2012) and current presidential candidate for France, Francois Fillon criticized Hollande for his refusal to form a broad anti-terrorist coalition with the participation of Russia, that Hollande himself proposed after the attacks in Paris. Asked on whether the French President should meet with Putin, Fillon was emphatic: “Of course he must accept the Russian president” and added that dialogue between the two countries is essential.
In an interview with TV channel RT, leading Republican Party member of the National Assembly Nicolas Dyuik determined Hollande’s statement as “absolutely counterproductive”. “The head of state of France along with the French government are suffering from an absolute lack of political culture and political foresight” said Dyuik, adding that the European elite is totally dependent on US foreign policy. Even sharper was another Republican MP – former Secretary of State and Minister of Transport under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy – Thierry Mariani, who called President Hollande a “US lackey”. “I ask myself whether a French foreign policy really exists. Increasingly, we get the impression that we are an appendix to the State Department, or that French foreign policy is nothing more than a replica of the bellicose foreign policy of the United States” said Mariani.
Another former French prime minister and presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, Alain Juppe, was also in favor of holding a meeting with Vladimir Putin. “We can not break relations with Putin, we will not start a new Cold War” said Juppe, adding that if he was in place of Hollande and the Russian President was in France, he would meet with him to explain the French position. A similar criticism was sounded by other smaller factions in the Senate and National Assembly, and David Rachline who is close to the leader of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, and manager of her presidential campaign, said that France is obliged to speak with the Russian President if it wants its voice to be heard.
The situation led to the cancellation of the Russian President’s visit, something which was confirmed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. In his words, the reason for the decision are the changes in the French proposed program. “There were some events taken down, including the opening of a cultural and religious center and exhibitions. Unfortunately, these events were dropped from the program, so the president decided to cancel his visit to France for now” said Peskov. In an immediate response, Francois Hollande stated his willingness to meet with Putin “at any time” to discuss the peace process in Syria, but it seems the Russian side does not consider Paris to be a key participant in solving the crisis. Besides the cancelled visit, something else which is indicative of the importance that the Kremlin attaches to the theme of Ukraine within the French proposed program are the Russian Ambassador in Paris, Alexander Orlov’s comments. On air at a popular radio station Europe 1, Orlov announced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a proposal to Russian President Putin to visit Berlin on the same date – October 19, to discus the crisis within the format of the “Normandy Four”.
In the current situation Paris, which has an ever lesser influence in its former colony Syria, is fully aware that to solve the problems of security and terrorism, cooperation with Russia is key. The results of blindly following the Pentagon’s strategy in the Middle East has led only human flows in the millions and terrorist threats. The French president finds himself in a difficult situation, subjected to severe pressure from two opposite directions. On the one hand there is the diplomatic and economic pressure from the US, for France to follow the foreign policy of the State Department and the economic priorities of the transatlantic partnership for trade and investment (TTIP). On the other hand, there is internal pressure from opposition forces in goverment, calling for an independent foreign policy and partnership with Russia where it coincides with the interests of France.