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Will Sarkozy become Sarko?

20:10 | 08/ 10/ 2007

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yelena Shesternina) - On October 9-10, French President Nicholas Sarkozy will pay a visit to Moscow to have talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

This will be their second meeting since Sarkozy was elected president. For the first time, the two presidents met at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm and intrigued the journalists on the eve of the usually boring official talks. While they were talking before a regular meeting, the French president's phone rang. Having spoken for a minute, Sarkozy gave the receiver to Putin. It later transpired that they were not dealing with global problems. Their wives - Cecilia and Lyudmila - simply decided to check what their husbands were doing. The first ladies had their own program and found a common language rather quickly. Judging by all, their husbands also got on quite well.

At any rate, when French journalists asked him about his opinion of Putin, Sarkozy said that the Russian president seemed a calm and very clever man one could easily talk to. This admission perplexed political analysts who predicted almost return to the Cold War times for Moscow and Paris after Sarkozy became president.

During the election campaign the then presidential nominee was not very complimentary to Russia, and tried to distance himself as much as he could from the policy of Jacques Chirac, who had been Moscow's number one defender in Europe for many years.

He demanded Putin's explanations of Russia's position as regards Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine. He said that he categorically disagreed with the Russian president's view of the Soviet Union's disintegration as the biggest tragedy of the 20th century. Sarkozy argued that a collapse of any dictatorship was good news, and the Soviet Union had been a dictatorship. When asked about his possible allies, Sarkozy replied: If you asked me whether I'm closer to the United States or Russia with its policy and behavior in Chechnya, I will choose the former.

Sarkozy demonstrated that he is closer to the United States, and not only politically, when he spent his first presidential vacation there. He decided to combine business and pleasure and apart from fishing, went to see his American counterpart George W. Bush at his family residence in Kennebunkport, Maine.

It's certainly up to him where to spend his vacation and whom to meet. But the Western media have noted of late that his Atlanticism has had a certain impact on the White House. The U.S. Administration is going to replace its chief ally in Europe by punishing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his decision to start troop withdrawal from Iraq. It has now made Sarkozy the chief lobbyist of American interests in the European Union because he has proved to be a good friend of the United States - in no way less than Tony Blair was at his time.

It goes without saying that being Washington's best friend will not add to Sarkozy's popularity in France. This is why the French president carefully chooses words when talking about his foreign policy plans. But this does not change the gist of the problem. He openly supports America on two major international issues, demanding new sanctions against Iran and independence for Kosovo. In this respect, he makes his country's position opposite to Russia's.

Sarkozy is quite straightforward about the Kremlin's energy policy: "Pushing its way into the international arena, Russia is rather crude and violent in using its oil and gas advantage." This unequivocal statement was soon followed by action - the state-owned Gaz de France has joined the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project bypassing Russia.

There is one more irritating factor in bilateral relations. Sarkozy himself and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who recently visited Moscow have already reminded Russian officials about human rights, Anna Politkovskaya's murder and the situation in the Caucasus. They are rather open in voicing their opinion on the political situation in Russia. Kouchner was one of the first to react to Putin's statement about his possible premiership. Even the White House and the EU called this maneuver Russia's home affair but Kouchner immediately recalled his favorite topic: "Russia is not serious enough in its attitude to the opposition; it has many difficulties in this respect and the whole world if aware of this." He went on by quoting Condoleezza Rice as being absolutely right in expressing her concern about centralization of power in Russia.

It seems at first sight that the longer Sarkozy stays in power, the fewer points of contact Russia will have with France. However, this is not quite the case. After all, France does not at all wants war in Iran; is not going to take part in the Iraqi conflict; despite all speculation it is not likely to resume NATO's full membership and can well consider Russia's interests at the talks on admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO. No matter what political scientists, ostensibly close to the Kremlin, might say about "special friendship" between Mikhail Saakashvili and Sarkozy, the equally knowledgeable French sources have not heard anything about it.

The departure of Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac from the political scene has put an end to the Moscow-Paris-Berlin triad. Nevertheless, Putin managed to find a common language with Angela Merkel despite universal forecasts of deterioration in Russian-German relations immediately after the end of "beer-and-sauna diplomacy" of the Schroeder times.

Today Russian policymakers are facing a similar task - to try and build relations with France based on pragmatic considerations, even without calling the French president "good friend Sarko."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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