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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: June 16, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Nicolas Sarkozy Goes All-Out For Putin In Saint Petersburg
6 years
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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has emphatically aligned himself with the Kremlin today in remarks made ahead of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

Sarkozy, who now leads the main opposition party in France, Les Républicains, was interviewed as part of the "Conversations with the Extraordinary" segment before the opening ceremony of the Forum.

Sarkozy said that France and Russia must work "hand in hand" and praised President Vladimir Putin:

Translation: Sarkozy: "No one disputes Putin's leadership, certainly not me."

Translation: Sarkozy at SPIEF: "We must work with Russia, I will fight for this. I do not want to see a new Cold War."

Sarkozy claimed that cooperation with Russia was essential for resolving the war in Syria and "protecting" Europe against immigration.

Translation: "To protect ourselves from the flows of migration Europe must have more peaceful relations with Russia."

This is despite the fact that Russia's support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad and indiscriminate bombing campaign against civilian areas does nothing but worsen the humanitarian situation driving more Syrians to flee their country.

On Ukraine, Sarkozy said that the country "is a bridge between Europe and Russia, if you cut the bridge off from one of its banks it doesn't exist anymore. The Russian minority must be protected and there must be respect for the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state, which cannot be negotiable."

"The destiny of Ukraine is to have the best possible relations with Europe, and the best possible relations with Russia. Together! Together! Ukraine cannot choose one or the other. Ukraine is a friend of Russia and a friend of Europe. This is the reason for why I think that it is a mistake to integrate Ukraine into NATO and to integrate it into Europe."

Translation: Ukraine "the decision to remove Russian as an official language is terrible."

This is a bizarre statement as Russian has never been a state language in independent Ukraine. Many pro-Russian politicians, including former Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych, have vowed to grant the language official status, but this has never come to pass.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that official government communications are in Ukrainian, there has been no suppression of Russian as a language in media. Indeed, many government organs still provide Russian translations of their communications. Furthermore, the linguistic divide is nowhere near as stark as often assumed. The vast majority of Ukrainians are effectively bilingual, with Russian spoken across the country and used as a first language by some members of the governing Cabinet and many members of the volunteer battalions presented by Russian media as fanatical Ukrainian nationalists.

Recent weeks have seen both houses of the French parliament approve non-binding resolutions calling for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbass.  

The National Assembly vote was led by MPs from Sarkozy's Républicains. The resolution was introduced by one of his MPs, Thierry Mariani, who led a delegation of French MPs to occupied Crimea last summer, prompting outrage from the French and Ukrainian governments.

Today Sarkozy stressed his desire to see sanctions lifted, but suggested that Moscow make the first move by lifting retaliatory sanctions on European imports:

"I have proposed to President Putin that he lifts the sanctions from his own side and, in exchange, Minsk 2 will come into force. Go my Russian friends, show the way, lift the sanctions."  

Quite what Sarkozy means here is uncertain. After all the implementation of the Minsk agreement is rather more dependent on Moscow stopping sending fighters and weapons into the Donbass and allowing OSCE monitors to inspect the entire border, let alone returning control of it to Kiev.

On the original cause for the imposition of sanctions - the annexation of Crimea - Sarkozy was evasive: 

Translation: Sarkozy on Crimea: "not a word in Minsk 2. If you want to get out of a crisis, you must not look back at the past."

It is interesting that Sarkozy echoed Russian state media in appearing to present Europe's clash with Russia as a product of American interference.

"I want France to be independent of American law. Relations between Europe and Russia should not be dictated by anyone. I am a friend of the Americans but sorry, I can not accept the fact that because we use the dollar we are subject to American justice."

Sarkozy presented a vision of Europe that is indeed more relatable to Putin's Christian conservatism, saying that Europeans needed to regain their identity because "there is no respect without identity."

"Europe is not Christian, but Europe has Christian roots! If you do not know where you come from you don't know where to go. I do not want a world with one single culture, a single cinema." 

Sarkozy's relationship with Putin, with whom he dined last night, has not always been so cozy.

I'll add a translation here of a fascinating except from Nicolas Hénin's La France Russe, on an exchange at the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Sarkozy, who had been elected President less than a month earlier, went into a meeting with Putin full of vim and confronted the Russian leader on his domestic abuses and threats towards the Georgian government.

Indeed, as Hénin notes, Sarkozy had declared during his presidential campaign that "silence is unacceptable" regarding the death and displacement as a result of Russia's wars in Chechnya.

Hénin describes the meeting:

"I am not Jacques Chirac. With me, we will talk of Anna Politkovskaya, we will talk about human rights, we will talk about the deaths in Chechnya..." The monologue lasts several minutes, during which Vladimir Putin remains impassive. He lets him speak. Then a silence.

"Look, I will explain it to you," continues the Russian. "Your country, it is like this..." He makes a gesture with his hands close to one another. Then he spreads his arms wide: "And my country, it is like that. Now, you have two solutions. either you continue to talk in this tone and I will crush you, or you change your register and I can make you king of Europe." 

Putin punctuates his speech with course and humiliating expressions to enhance the impact. Sarkozy is shocked. He leaves livid. A knockout debut.

Sarkozy's nervous, stumbling speech at the press conference immediately afterwards was assumed by many to be the result of drunkeness, but Hénin claims that the President had not had a drop of alcohol, he was merely in shock from the meeting with Putin. 

After this meeting, Sarkozy made an about turn on his policy towards Russia.

-- Pierre Vaux