BFF-04 Navalny poisoning shatters Macron’s Russia reset dream





Navalny poisoning shatters Macron’s Russia reset dream

PARIS, Sept 9, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – The poisoning of Russian opposition figure
Alexei Navalny with the Novichok nerve agent has dealt a blow to French
President Emmanuel Macron’s strategy of rapprochement with Russia, which
troubled some EU allies, analysts say.

France has throughout the crisis stood shoulder to shoulder with its close
partner Germany, where Navalny is being treated after falling ill on a flight
from Siberia and which has told Moscow only a full investigation can lift
suspicions of a state-sponsored attack.

Analysts say Macron’s much-heralded outreach to Russian counterpart
President Vladimir Putin had — despite some high-profile diplomacy — so far
failed to bring any concrete results.

Paris-Moscow dialogue is unlikely to be severed completely but the dispute
has already claimed its first casualty in relations with the cancellation of
a planned meeting in Paris next week between the countries’ foreign and
defence ministers.

Next to go could be a trip by Macron to Moscow that had been scheduled for
the early autumn.

“We can continue to discuss, yes. But to continue this illusion of
rapprochement only weakens Europe and the cohesion of the EU,” said Nicolas
Tenzer, professor at the Paris School of International Affairs.

“I do not see how this can continue in these conditions without sending
extremely disturbing signals to our European allies,” he told AFP.

Macron, he added, should be careful not to harm his credibility as a
European leader after successfully spearheading a post-coronavirus economic
relaunch plan with Germany.

“All this risks being undermined by a position that no one would
understand towards Russia,” he warned.

Putin and Macron had agreed in telephone talks this summer that the French
president would visit, but this is now under threat, a French diplomatic
source said. “Everything is possible,” the source added.

– ‘Cannot fail to react’ –

The crisis moved to a new level last week after Germany announced that
Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, the same nerve agent used to poison
former agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018, an attack the West blamed on
Russian military intelligence.

“It is a chemical, military weapon, it is the State that manufactures it.
Moreover, it happened before. France cannot fail to react to this,” said
Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, Russia expert at the French Institute of
International Relations (IFRI).

Macron “is squeezed between the desire to resume dialogue with Moscow,
despite all the negative factors, and the desire to play the role of leader
in Europe,” said Kastoueva-Jean.

The French president also had to take into account the views of Poland and
the three Baltic States who had been ruffled by his overtures to Putin, she

But she said dialogue would continue on issues of shared interest, notably
the conflict in Libya and the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Macron set out his Russia strategy in an explosive interview with The
Economist in November 2019, when he declared NATO was brain dead and said
Europe needed to have a strategic dialogue with Russia.

Examining Russia’s long-term strategic options under Putin, he said Russia
could not prosper in isolation, would not want to be a “vassal” of China and
would eventually have to opt for “a partnership project with Europe”.

– ‘No tangible results’ –

Macron gave Putin the rare honour of a high-profile summit at his
Mediterranean summer residence, the Bregancon fortress, in August 2019. He
hosted him again in Paris in December for the Kremlin chief’s first peace
talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But even top French officials have admitted the president has little to
show for his efforts.

“If the question is ‘are there already tangible results in the dialogue
that France launched with Russia?’, I would answer you very honestly that
this is not yet the case,” Defence Minister Florence Parly said in July.

While Germany is under pressure to abandon the controversial Nord Stream 2
gas pipeline after the poisoning, France has no such banner project with
Russia after cancelling the sale of two Mistral warships over the Ukraine

But the scrapping of the meeting between the countries’ foreign and
defence ministers — scheduled for September 14 in Paris — may only be the

“How can they behave as if nothing has happened?” said Francois Heisbourg,
special advisor for the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS).

BSS/AFP/MSY/0820 hrs