12122017What's Hot:

Macron and Putin’s awkward first date

PARIS — The official line on the first meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin was that it was “frank” and “open” and covered Syria, Ukraine and a host of other topics — but the differences between the two leaders were plain to see.

The new French president struck a firm, at times defiant tone. There was even a flash of anger when the subject of election hacking was brought up. He said Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik “did not behave like press outlets, but behaved like agents of influence and propaganda” which spread “serious falsehoods.”

“I will never give in to that,” he said while standing next to Putin.

There were less awkward moments. Speaking to journalists at the Versailles palace, the two leaders said they had agreed to restart talks on Ukraine in the “coming days and weeks” under the so-called Normandy format — referring to four-way consultations between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany that have been paused.

Macron and Putin also flagged enhanced cooperation in Syria to combat Islamic State.

“No essential topic can be addressed without dialogue with Russia,” Macron said during their joint news conference in the Gallery of Battlesk, a huge gilded hall covered in paintings depicting scenes of war. “It was a frank exchange, extremely direct … We share disagreements, but we also see how to construct a common action.”

Putin was granted a statesman’s welcome in Versailles’ grand surroundings

He added: “If we don’t have a frank, sincere dialogue that is sometimes made of disagreements, but is demanding, then we will never achieve any advances on the Ukrainian or the Syrian issue.”

While Putin was granted a statesman’s welcome in grand surroundings, at times he looked uncomfortable during his brief appearance with Macron in front of journalists.

The Russian leader, who had not been to France since 2015, offered brief answers to just four questions from some 200 journalists in the room, dismissing one about election meddling as something that “does not exist.”

The only time he went into anything approaching detail was to offer a defense of his decision to meet far-right leader Marine Le Pen during France’s presidential campaign — a meeting he said had been initiated by the National Front leader.

“Of course we followed the polls,” said Putin. “But why deny this meeting? It would be strange to deny a meeting with someone who has always called for a reinforcement of ties with Russia.”

Macron, just back from a G7 meeting in Sicily, wasn’t so shy about speaking out. On Syria, he said “any use of chemical weapons” would prompt an “armed response,” and added that France would “remain vigilant” on human rights issues including abuses of gay people in Chechnya and the treatment of non-governmental organizations in Russia.

All eyes on handshake

Putin arrived around an hour late and was greeted by Macron outside the palace. Their initial contact was keenly scrutinized following Macron’s extended handshake with Donald Trump before a NATO summit in Brussels. Journalists described the handshake with Putin as “frank,” “firm” and even “warm.”

After the debacle of Putin’s last planned visit to Paris in 2015 — it was called off amid controversy over Russian bombing of Aleppo — Macron’s team wanted Putin to feel more welcome than challenged. They used an exhibit on Peter the Great’s 1717 visit to Versailles as an excuse to invite Putin to France, a move that was both deliberate and designed to speak to Putin’s notions of his own importance.

“Putin is someone who is deeply attached to symbols,” said a Macron aide who helped set up the meeting. “Welcoming him here is a way of situating him in the longer course of history. It’s a desire to address the things that are important to him.”

Putin and Macron leave the stage at the end of their press conference | Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Before their talks, which lasted a little over an hour, Macron’s team insisted that the new president would make “no concessions” and address “all problems.”

But Macron, who’s been in power for less than a month, also aimed to bring Putin closer to France at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, campaigning for re-election, has little interest in warmer ties with Moscow.

“Merkel’s attitude reflects German public opinion. We are coming out of a campaign,” said a Macron aide. “We’re here to act as a safety net, to make sure Europe doesn’t turn into a centrifuge that encourages Putin to pivot further toward Asia, and so on … We are not playing the isolation card.”

Macron aides insisted on the need to re-establish a working relationship after a bad patch in Franco-Russia ties under his predecessor François Hollande.

“This is a new departure in our relations,” Russia’s ambassador to Paris, Alexandre Orlov, told the RIA Novosti agency. “It seems that between Macron and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], there are many common points, and they should be able to understand each other well.”

Related stories on these topics:
View Comments



Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic