Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed to Paris today by his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, just days after G-7 leaders vowed to maintain sanctions against Moscow for the annexation of Crimea and its continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The meeting took place at the Palace of Versailles near the French capital where the leaders took in an exhibition commemorating the visit of Russia’s Peter the Great 300 years ago. Ukraine and Syria – conflicts in which France and Russia support opposing sides – loomed large on the agenda as the two leaders discussed the need to find common ground despite their strong differences of opinion. Speaking to the press, Macron said that the presidential elections that he won two weeks ago was an expression of France’s desire “to work on the destiny of the world”, which he said can only be done in dialogue with Russia.
Turning to Syria where the Kremlin-backed government of Bashar al-Assad stands accused of multiple war crimes in its six-year campaign to quell an uprising by rebels and terrorist groups, Macron said, “ I would like to organise a democratic transition but one that maintains the Syrian state,” adding that “failed states in the region are a threat to our democracies and we’ve seen how they have caused the rise of terrorist groups.”
Macron indicated his readiness to commit French forces to intervene in Syria in the case of a chemical attack ‘by any side’, saying that crossing this red line will result in ‘immediate consequences.’ Responding to reports of human rights violations against LGBT people in the Russian republic of Chechnya Macron said that he and Putin had an ‘extremely good’ conversation about the subject during which Putin assured him of ‘numerous initiatives’ he has undertaken to help local authorities ‘solve the problem.’
Putin said that they did not discuss allegations that Russia attempted to influence the French elections because, he said, Macron ‘expressed no interest, and I don’t think there is anything to discuss.’ Answering a question about Marine Le-Pen’s visit to Russia during the campaign, which was seen by many as evidence that she was Putin’s preferred candidate to win, Putin said, “it would be strange to refuse to interact with those political figures who want to develop multifaceted relations. It doesn’t mean that we tried to influence relations.”
“We are not children,” he added, “we are doing serious business here [involving] the fundamental interests of Russia and France, not just the political interests of some groups, and we will be guided by the interests of our countries only.”