Russia- France: A Start from Scratch?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)

Although Russia’s relations with the abstract “collective West” continue to be tense today, lately some changes have appeared, primarily with respect to France. In August, a meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron took place at France’s Fort de Brégançon; the latter announced that “Western hegemony” was nearing its end, and outlined the need for a “reset” in relations between Russia and Europe. On October 14, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted a meeting with Sylvie-Agnès Bermann, Ambassador of the French Republic to Russia, during which the Club’s guest shared her vision of the dynamics of bilateral relations amid the wider geopolitical context.

According to the moderator of the meeting, Valdai Club’s research director Fyodor Lukyanov, today France in the person of Emmanuel Macron not only decided to improve relations with Russia, but took the role of a mediator in its interaction with the EU. “He has a clear vision of the place that Russia will occupy in the new world, and now the initiative comes from the French side,” he said. “Moscow has taken it very positively and is ready to develop this direction.”

In her speech, Sylvie-Agnès Bermann outlined the main events that demonstrated the improvement of relations between Russia and France and led them, as she said, to a “new take-off”: these include the meetings in Brégançon, Versailles, in St. Petersburg, and finally, the G20 summit, when the presidents of the two countries gave a joint press conference and held one-on-one negotiations. “Despite all their differences, the two heads of state have established relations of trust and mutual respect between themselves. They are looking to the future and striving to leave blame in the past,” she said.

At the same time, there are a number of crises, which, according to her, act as “indicators” of these relations. The first is Ukraine; for the first time, there has been a discrepancy between Russia and the EU because of the situation there. “Based on goodwill on both sides, Russia and Ukraine, we can later find a solution that would facilitate removal or, at least, a softening of the sanctions. Vladimir Zelensky is a rather flexible politician, and in the near future – for example, in November – it will be necessary to arrange a new meeting in the Normandy format. It would allow us to outline our views and disagreements,” Sylvie-Agnès Bermann said. The second “indicator” is the conflict in Syria; Russia and France have fewer disagreements there, although the situation has become complicated in connection with the recent operation of the Turkish troops. The war in Syria, as well as the clashes in Libya and the Central African Republic, have provided the two countries with the opportunity to act together for the sake of peace. Among other promising areas of interaction between the two countries, the ambassador named the fight against terrorism, cybersecurity, their space programmes, as well as nuclear energy.

During the Club guest’s conversation with experts and journalists, another important question was raised: if Russia is one country whose future can be considered more or less predictable, then what is the future of the EU or, more broadly, Europe? “Macron led his campaign on the European theme, and he was elected as a European,” the ambassador said. – Now Europe faces many challenges: there is Brexit, everything is not going smoothly in Italy, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced her intention to resign. There are global topics – for example, the problem of migrants. All these questions need answers. It’s clear that this will not worked out instantly, but we have always managed to overcome crises, and the EU will remain a united bloc both in trade relations and in relations with Russia. ”

In general, as Fyodor Lukyanov noted at the end of the meeting, one can speak of a serious change in attitude on the part of the Russian leadership – it has become very calm and devoid of any exaltation. “Maybe a new phase has already arrived. Relations between Russia and the EU deserve more, and there is no one to bring them to a new level besides France,” he concluded.