-Article by Alice Ferré
Three hundred years after Peter the Great’s visit to Versailles, Russian President Vladimir Putin was hosted in one of France’s most emblematic monument yesterday by French President Emmanuel Macron. While this venue seemed less official than the Elysée for a presidential meeting, the grandioseness of the golden palace set out that President Macron did not underestimate the importance of the international affairs to discuss, which included Ukraine, Syria, and human rights.
Over the past few years, the Franco-Russian relationship has plummeted to an unprecedented level as Russia tightened its grip on the Crimean region and destabilized eastern Ukraine, in disregard for the European Union’s sovereignty. In October 2016, former President François Hollande made it clear that President Putin’s visit to the opening of an Orthodox cultural center in Paris would have been inappropriate owing to Russia’s multiple vetoes on Syria at the United Nations Security Council. President Putin’s last unilateral visit goes back to 2012.
Wishing to advance the Ukrainian dilemma, President Macron explained during the conference that a “Normandy-like” meeting, gathering the Russian and Ukrainian presidents under the “chaperonage” of Berlin and Paris, would be needed to work on the Minsk agreement of February 2015. This meeting would be an ultimatum to Russia for possibly waiving its sanctions.
Regarding the Syrian conflict, President Macron called for an “inclusive” political solution in the long term to generate discussion “amongst all the parties, including Assad.” The talks would aim at limiting “the disintegration of Syria and fragilization of the region” while still fighting to eradicate the Islamic State and terrorism.
The news conference with the two leaders also presented an unexpected Russian news media backlashing from the French president.
President Macron had set a firm tone a few days earlier in an interview with the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” by saying that before interlocutors such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Donald Trump, one has “not to miss any chance to gain respect in such power struggle.” In this optic, President Macron was intolerant in his critic of Russia’s controversial handling of human rights, such as the repression of the homosexual community and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). President Macron also shed light on Russia news media outlets such as the Kremlin-funded Russia Today and Sputnik, accusing them of having spread “fake news” to undermine his campaign.