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France - Russian Relations

From time immemorial, France, as a continental power, badly protected on her northeastern frontier, had found herself on land in rivalry, if not in open struggle, with her eastern neighbour, formerly Austria, to-day Germany. And always also, in order to keep this rival or adversary at arm's length, she was obliged to seek allies in the east of Europe, — Turks, Swedes, Poles, these last more recently replaced by Russians.

In 1717, Peter the Great, during his travels in France, said to the Regent Philippe d'Orleans, when offering him his alliance, "I will stand to you in the stead of Poland, Turkey, and Sweden."' A century and a half later, at the close of the Crimean war, Bismarck expressed the opinion that a "Franco-Russian Alliance was in the nature of things." As a matter of fact, the Russian Empire and the French Republic worked for the increase of their own security by fortifying the equilibrium of Europe, on the day that they recorded in a treaty of alliance the lasting community of their essential interests.

Charles X, had clearly understood the profit France would derive from a rapprochement with Russia. The Due de Richelieu, Chateaubriand, and Polignac were the first partisans of the Russian Alliance. And it was largely because he was assured of Russia's support that, in spite of England's threats, the last mentioned statesman undertook the Algerian expedition.

The downfall of the First Empire was the natural result of Napoleon's ambition. Other causes contributed to weaken the Franco-Russian alliance, — Napoleon's encouragement of the Poles, the continent blockade, the Austrian marriage, the annexation of Oldenburg. War broke out in 1812, and Napoleon led a huge army to Moscow. He retreated among the rigors of a Russian autumn (October-December), lost a quarter of a million men, and shattered his prestige. First Russia, then Austria, ranged themselves on the side of the allies. On the advice of Talleyrand, Alexander of Russia, who had entered Paris at the head of the allied armies, resolved to recall the Bourbons. So perished the empire in a blaze of military glory, which France will never forget.

The reign of Napoleon III had a deplorable influence on French relations with Russia. The Crimean campaign was a mistake; and the policy followed in the affairs of Poland was another. When the war of 1870 broke out, Russia did nothing to defend France. During his stay in Saint Petersburg, Thiers obtained neither "understanding nor engagement." The Czar saw in France's disasters nothing more than an opportunity to bring about the revision of the Treaty of Paris. Gortchakoff had full confidence in Prussia; and this confidence was destined to last until the Congress of Berlin. The diplomatic combination known under the name of the Alliance of the Three Emperors left France isolated. Vanquished and alone, she had only herself to rely on.

France was also in need of an ally after her defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. Many circumstances, indeed, prevented the hope of her being able to escape from this isolation by an alliance with Russia. An initial obstacle existed in the wide difference between the two countries' domestic regimes. For the Republican form of government the Russian Court felt very little sympathy. Russians blaming the Radical trend of French politics, Frenchmen praying for the success of Russian Liberals.

During his ephemeral premiership of 1881, Gambetta said "Leaning on Russia and on England, we shall be unattackable." By 1891 France had become Russia's creditor for a sum which may be estimated, with municipal loans and industrial enterprises, at twelve billions of francs. It was a new principle of solidarity between the two countries, and, from 1889, offered to political combinations the broad, solid basis of financial interests. If an explanation of the present is sought for in the past, it will be found that the origin of the Franco-Russian alliance lies in the sympathy which has for a long time united the French and Russian armies.

The effect of the formation of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy in 1882 was to draw the other two great continental powers, France and Russia, together. This rapprochement at first took the form of large loans of money by France to Russia. These loans enabled Russia to consolidate her debt on easier terms, to build strategic railroads, and to increase the efficiency of her army and navy. In July, 1891, the French Channel fleet visited Kronstadt, and it is probable that at this time military and naval understandings between the two Powers were drawn up to serve as bases for common action.

In spite of a past of mistrust, in spite of differences of every sort, political, intellectual, and moral, Russian opinion and French opinion, breaking a long silence, united in applauding the rapprochement. It may be said that no alliance ever enjoyed so great popularity in France and none that was so unpopular among foreigners, in America particularly.

In 1891 the Emperor Alexander decided to have an alliance with the French republic. The 21 and 27 August 1891 Convention between France and Russia; terms: it was no more than an agreement to consult in a crisis-but it was a starting point. The Franco-Russian agreement as an offset to the Anglo-Japanese entente was further strengthened when the Czar visited Paris in September, 1901, and by the visit of President Loubet to St. Petersburg in May 1902.

Between 1893 and 1902, the combined action of the two allied countries was wanting in intensity and consistency. Each of them looked after their own affairs, while profiting by the moral credit which the Alliance brought, yet without developing the credit by a methodical cooperation. The strengthening of the Franco-Russian entente' was the most notable fact of these years.

The Franco-Russian Entente Cordiale, on which the French government counted as a protection against German aggression, had many opponents at home. Since its formation, the Socialists had not ceased to criticize its originators and its pretended utility. And when Russia in her war with Japan suffered humiliating military defeats, the Alliance, in the opinion of its opponents, had become worthless. The Franco-Russian Alliance was not the alliance of two peoples, but only the accord of tsarism and French reactionaries. The French Socialists not only endeavored to win the French nation to the side of the Russian revolutionaries, but they also worked hard to influence the French government to act in their favor.

The fundamental and basic element in De Gaulle's foreign policy was his strongly held and unchangeable conviction that the nation (the state and not the people) represented the permanent unit in international affairs. Its authority and sovereignty must under no conditions be watered down or weakened in any way. The conception of France as a nation is embued with almost mystical quality and De Gaulle is embodiment of this national spirit.

This explained De Gaulle's antagonism to the organization of NATO, his aversion to anything that smacks of integration. It is the reason why he has withdrawn French fleet from NATO control and Air Force and two French divisions. It is also national concept which has caused him to refuse permission for storage of American atomic weapons on French soil.

De Gaulle's government adopted a gratuitously anti-American line for its overall policy. France's flirtation with the Soviet Union was one such independent initiative. De Gaulle reasoned that while the United States and the Soviet Union were roughly equivalent in military power, the United States greatly exceeded the Soviet in economic and political strength. It was thus by far the most powerful nation in the world, and such power would eventually, and inevitably, lead to its exerting hegemony over less powerful nations. It was thus incumbent upon France to increase its own power (i.e., develop its force de frappe), and to assert its independence.

Numerous statements made in 1965 to effect that France and USSR are primarily responsible for European security, and De Gaulle's happy acquiescence of this echo to his own thesis, suggest this may constitute basis for expressing “common views” or “mutual interest”.

By 1965 realities of Franco-Soviet relations were that nether side can go very far without creating unpredictable and dangerous consequences to their rear: for the Soviets, too much truck with Gaullist ideas about “greater” Europe could have unsettling influence on Soviet position in Eastern Europe; for the French there are the obvious dangers of undermining French influence in FRG and French leading position in EEC.

From De Gaulle's standpoint, it would be risky to jettison all prospects for his continued popularity with certain sectors of German opinion by overt indications of his presumed desire to see Germany indefinitely divided. However, his 04 February 1965 press conference placed German reunification in realm of distant future where this could be acceptable to Germany's eastern as well as western neighbors.

While De Gaulle doubtless would be delighted to claim or jointly share with USSR credit for moves leading to an international settlement over Vietnam or better yet a “great power” concord on Southeast Asia, this vision of glory apparently shrank as events escalated far beyond the possible diplomatic impact.

De Gaulle intensified his anti-American offensive in 1966 by directly challenging the Southeast Asian policy of the Johnson administration during a tour of the region.

The Gaullist / Mitterrandist consensus was based on the idea that the US presence in Europe was an accident of history whose consequences could not be sustained forever. There would come a time when the USA would leave the continent to its own fate; the Europeans had better prepare for it.

Since 1966, France has had one foot in NATO and the other outside it. The country’s awkward position in the alliance defined in large part the Fifth Republic’s defense posture.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union cultivated a "privileged" relationship with France. The high point of SovietFrench relations occurred during the administration of President Charles de Gaulle (1959-69). Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Soviet-French relations cooled, although state visits continued. During the leadership of President François Mitterand, first elected as part of a coalition government in May 1981, France pursued several policies objectionable to the Soviet Union, such as selling arms to China, militarily opposing Libya's invasion of Chad, working with West Germany to strengthen West European defense, and expelling a large number of Soviet diplomats and other personnel involved in technology theft and other forms of espionage.

Gorbachev's first state visit as general secretary was to France in October 1985. The visit provided a public display of the Soviet Union's interest in maintaining a special relationship with France and also served as an attempt to exacerbate intra-European rivalries. Nevertheless, the general trend of French foreign policy in the late 1980s toward greater cooperation with NATO frustrated Soviet efforts to maintain a privileged relationship. France's refusal in 1986 and 1987 to discuss a freeze or a reduction of the French nuclear forces (force de frappe, or force de dissuasion) further strained Soviet-French relations.

Franco-Russian relations cooled considerably in 1999 and into 2000, following Russia's actions in Chechnya. A rapprochement began, slowly, in November 2000, during President Putin's first trip to France. In 2001 France and Russia launched their first annual bilateral "seminar" on joint economic projects, and in 2002 they began a 2-plus-2 strategic dialogue. (Russia was one of only two countries -- the United States is the other -- with which France had established such dialogue.) Relations advanced rapidly in 2003, as Russia and France joined forces to oppose the war in Iraq.

Whatever Russia does, Paris continues to regard Moscow with some distrust. Russia was suspicious of France's closeness, under Sarkozy, to the United States. France appeared less "independent" (in other words, less anti-American) under Sarkozy. Now that the French has reintegrated into NATO and had a sort of rapprochement with Washington, it appeared less predictable to the Russians. Public skepticism in France about Russia does not necessarily constrain French foreign policy. The French popular press is fairly unified in its critical coverage of Russia; Chechnya, played a large role in establishing this trend, and the war in Georgia also sparked a negative reaction in France.

Soon after the 2007 presidential election, despite a muted campaign on transatlantic issues, Nicolas Sarkozy announced the normalization of France’s relations with NATO. The return to the integrated military command was made official in a letter the French president sent to the heads of state and government of the Atlantic Alliance on 19 March 2009.

Putin announced several negative decisions in 2006 (e.g., on energy and gas reserves) shortly after his visit to France, leading some to suspect that Chirac "gave him the green light" to proceed without worrying about French criticism. Developments such as the massing of Russian troops in Abkhazia, the assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russian plans to redirect oil and gas supplies and the tension between Georgia and Russia were all troubling signs of an increasingly arbitrary and autocratic regime.

By 2007 Frenchs Russia policy was at the end of an arc that began in 1998. At that time, France and Germany paired with Russia diplomatically in what is known as the Yekaterinburg Triangle, named after the Russian city where it was initially formed, to accommodate Russia’s unique position in Europe and sustain its domestic transformation. The French-German alliance ambitiously hoped to stabilize “Grand Europe” with Russia while preparing for the enlargement of NATO and the European Union toward Russia’s borders. The three countries opposed the U.S. and British intervention in Iraq, creatingmajor tension with new NATO and EU member states that preferred U.S. and European to Russian leadership.

For French president Jacques Chirac, Russia was a strategic partner that is vital to his vision of not just a multilateral world, where decisions are shared, but a multipolar world, where power is shared.

By 2008 Russian intransigence, lack of EU unity for meaningful action, general European desire for dialogue with Moscow at almost any price, and a cautious Council of Europe (COE) Secretariat combine to provide little hope that even minimal COE monitoring of Russia and Georgia will succeed.

The French Socialist government took a hard line with Russia, Sarkozy’s center-right Les Républicains party increasingly called for closer ties with Moscow. Hollande’s government was one of the strongest Western opponents of involving Assad in any solution to the Syria conflict – a position that put Paris at loggerheads with the Kremlin.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine had been a thorn in the side of relations between Paris and Moscow – one that led Hollande to scrap the sale to Russia of two French-built warships, a deal that was signed off by Sarkozy during his 2007–2012 presidency. In August 2014 France refused to sell Mistral warships to Russia because of a disagreement between the two countries over the Ukrainian conflict, cancelling a 1.2-billion-euro order.

An October 2015 Ifop poll for French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche found that Putin is considerably more popular with right-wing voters. While the survey found negative opinions of the Russian leader were still the norm among the majority, 24 percent of Les Républicains supporters and 37 percent of National Front supporters said they had a “good opinion” of Putin, compared to 19 percent among supporters of Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS).

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared “the world needs Russia” as he met with the country’s leader Vladimir Putin in a controversial visit to Moscow 29 October 2015. "I'm happy to be here in Moscow, and you know my conviction that the world needs Russia," Sarkozy told reporters ahead of his hour-and-forty-five-minute-long closed door meeting with Putin at the Russian leader's residence just outside the capital.

"Russia and Europe should work together... To discuss, listen and respect, this is the destiny of France and Russia.” The meeting between the two men, the third since Sarkozy left the Elysée Palace in 2012, comes at a time of fraught relations between the Kremlin and current French President François Hollande over Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and recent military intervention in Syria.

Sarkozy accused Hollande of “a serious error of creating conditions for a new cold war with Russia”, a line that has also been used by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in criticising the French government’s dealings with Moscow.

Leader of France’s National Front party Marine Le Pen stressed the need to establish a close partnership with Russia. "We support Europe from Brest to Vladivostok, a stronger partnership with Russia," Le Pen said 27 September 2015. Marine Le Pen repeatedly urged to restore relations with Moscow and expressed support for Russia's foreign policy, including in the context of the Ukrainian crisis.

The leader of France’s National Front party, Marine Le Pen, believed that France in its attempts to settle the Syrian crisis should follow Russia’s example. "Russia’s actions in Syria these days show precisely what France should be doing. In other words, to spearhead the initiatives being taken in relation to that country," Le Pen said 05 November 2015.

"From the very beginning of Russian interference I have been able to see for myself that politicians in other countries are in confusion, because they have found themselves far away from the genuine initiatives. In other words, they were absent from the right place at the right moment. This is precisely the situation where the French government has found itself," Le Pen said. "Acting in concert with the Syrian leadership Russia undertook to spearhead the armed struggle against the Islamic State. I believe that this stance is very correct. France’s actions in the international scene should be precisely what Russia is doing."

In November 2015 Russian warships are to cooperate with the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle in the Mediterranean Sea, a decision that demonstrates a clear rapprochement between Paris and Moscow, who had been at odds over the Syrian conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his Mediterranean warships on 17 November 2015 to make “direct contact” with the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle, which left the port of Toulon, southern France, on 18 November 2015.

The Russians were making a lot of progress in exploiting some divisions in Europe around sanctions. Europe had debated easing the sanctions applied to Russia over its forceful takeover of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on 30 October 2015 that he considered Russia as a world power, not as regional, as stated by US President Barack Obama. Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed the point of view previously voiced by Obama in 2014, that Russia is just a regional power. "I have always considered Russia as a great power, not as a regional one, as was stated by Barack Obama," Sarkozy said in an interview with the French BFMTV channel. He added that the isolation of Moscow was counterproductive and called for intensification of the dialogue with Russia.

The French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, announced 17 November 2015 that Russia had “shifted” its position regarding Syria by bombing known Islamic State (IS) group locations. The principles of the rapprochement between the two world powers might seem surprising given the recent tensions between Paris and Moscow. There was a lack of consistency in French politics. France was now doing the reverse of what it did in the past. There could be limits to how effectively the newly formed Franco-Russian alliance may play out. With signs growing of a thaw between Moscow and Western capitals after the Paris attacks, some of Russia's neighbors fear that European resolve to keep up economic sanctions and military pressure over the Ukraine crisis may be waning.

The Kremlin’s attempts to divide Europe appeared to have been successful, as France’s parliament – the National Assembly – voted against prolonging economic sanctions on Russia. On 28 April 2016 French parliamentarians adopted a resolution calling on Paris to reassess the nation’s sanctions policy toward Moscow. Out of 577 members of the National Assembly, 55 supported the resolution, 44 turned it down, and two preferred to abstain. The Republicans party was the main driving force, with The Union of Democrats and Independents, the right-wing liberal party, and the National Front populists contributing to the adoption of the revolution. Within the Socialist Party, there were some mavericks like Economy Minister Emmanuele Macron, who supports the cancelation of sanctions.

On 08 June 2016 the French Senate unanimously adopted a resolution on the easing of anti-Russian sanctions. During the vote, 302 French senators voted in favor of the resolution, while 16 voted against the initiative. The resolution proposed by the opposition calls on the French government to protest extension of EU sanctions against Moscow. Although the resolution is not legally binding, the document was sent to the French government for consideration. Earlier, the French National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament, voted in favor of the resolution calling for lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.

The Republicans members expressed concerns over the fact that Russia’s counter-sanctions discouraged French food companies and created obstacles for them to return to the Russian market. If sanctions are prolonged, the French companies will suffer even more than the Russian ones, they argue. The Union of Democrats and Independents party is also against the extension of the sanctions. The National Front - is among the major advocates of the cancelation of sanctions. In particular, the National Front’s Vice President Florian Philippot sees anti-Russians sanctions as a “political and diplomatic mistake” as well as “economic drama” and a tragedy for agricultural producers, including French farmers.

French foreign policy welcomed Russia’s involvement in the Middle East and saw Russia more as an ally than an enemy. This was plainly stated by President Francois Hollande at the July 2016 Warsaw NATO summit: “NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat. Russia is a partner, which, it is true, may sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force which we have condemned when it annexed Crimea.”

Seven candidates – six men and one woman – faced off in the center-right Les Républicains party primaries primary debate on 18 November 2016. The stakes were high, with the winner of the primary set to be the favorite to become French president next year, given the weakness of the ruling Socialists. The three leading contenders - former prime minister François Fillon, ex-premier, Alain Juppé, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy - agreed not to prolong sanctions against Russia. The cancellation of the sanctions would be seen as Putin’s victory, but few in Europe were ready to admit it.

A Fillon-Le Pen run-off would pace a pro-Kremlin candidate in the Elysee Palace whoever wins.

Dominique de Villepin became famous as French foreign minister for refusing to support the US-led war in Iraq in 2003. Villepin argues that sanctions on Russia have not worked and says Europe should now aim for dialogue with Moscow. "We should try to find common ground with Russia".

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