François Fillon and the danger of dancing with the Russian bear


There is bad and good news on the potential consequences for France’s diplomatic and strategic positioning. The bad news is that Mr Fillon is not being merely opportunistic on the Putin question. He has pursued this course for many years, long before he was a possible candidate for the presidency. Ties became particularly close between Messrs Fillon and Putin when the two men were prime ministers during the Medvedev presidency in Russia. Nor is this a pure product of realpolitik on the Syrian issue, inspired for instance by President Barack Obama’s failure to follow through with his threat of military intervention, leaving the field open to Russia’s effective diplomatic and military intervention.

At the time, Mr Fillon not only denounced a prospective American-French bombing operation but he did so from Russia, where he was with Mr Putin at the gathering of the Valdai club of senior officials and strategists. This caused some shock in Paris, since it is highly unusual and definitely bad form for a French politician to undercut his country’s foreign policy from abroad. In other words, he believes what he is saying and will not be easily moved: the politics of conviction can have drawbacks.