FRANCE HAS HIGH HOPES FOR MEDVEDEV

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Two Russian ministers visit France for high-level talks

The Russian-French Security Cooperation Council met in Paris yesterday at the level of foreign affairs and defense ministers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov met with their French counterparts and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.


The Russian-French Security Cooperation Council met in Paris yesterday at the level of foreign affairs and defense ministers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov met with their French counterparts and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, discussing military cooperation and military technology cooperation. The key issue in the talks was the possibility of signing a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Russia and the European Union; and the leitmotif of the talks was adjustment of Russia’s positions in relations with the West.

The Russian-French Security Cooperation Council was established in 2002; its goals are to expand strategic dialogue on defense and security issues between Russia and France. This was the Council’s seventh meeting. Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serduykov, with their French counterparts Bernard Kouchner and Herve Moren, discussed Russian-French cooperation within the United Nations and the UN Security Council, counter-terrorism efforts, and WMD non-proliferation. In the afternoon, the Russian ministers met with President Sarkozy. It was an unofficial meeting, so the ministers didn’t discuss the details at their subsequent press conference.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said at the March 11 press conference: “Russia should be playing a more substantial role – not only in relations with France, but also in relations with Europe and the whole world. We acknowledge that certain problems have arisen of late between the EU and Russia, with the EU failing to find the right tone in communicating with Russia. We shall make every effort to ensure that the PCA is signed while France is chairing the EU – in the period after June 1. We regard this a strategic priority for our term in the EU chair.”

According to observers, this very question will dominate French-Russian relations in the year ahead. “Nicolas Sarkozy will do all he can to have the new PCA signed while France is chairing the EU,” says prominent German political analyst Alexander Rahr. In 2005, the signing of a new PCA were disrupted due to Poland, which imposed a veto on Russia-EU PCA negotiations. Warsaw demanded that Moscow should ratify the European Energy Charter and lift a ban on meat imports from Poland. Moscow lifted the embargo on Polish produce in December 2007, and Donald Tusk, Poland’s new prime minister, promised to lift the veto on PCA negotiations.

Observers note that for this reason, the French hosts were very interested in any possibility of changes in Russia’s policy on relations with the EU after the presidential election.

Alexander Rahr: “Dmitri Medvedev has made a number of liberal statements about Europe, so Western countries are taking an interest in the new president, in the hope of seeing some changes and concessions in relations – not only with the EU as a whole, but with each country in particular. A covert battle for the Russian energy market is under way.”

Antoine Colonna, chief editor of the “Intelligence et Strategie” journal: “Many in France see Dmitri Medvedev as a better alternative than Vladimir Putin. They believe he has more charisma, and the new president’s lack of KGB background is perceived as a virtue. The French press is inclined to demonize Putin.”

At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 8, President Putin said: “He Dmitri Medvedev is no less of a Russian nationalist, in the good sense of the term, than I am. I don’t think our partners will find him any simpler to deal with.” That same day, Medvedev offered Merkel “comradely cooperation” – just like in the Putin era. But “Russia is hardly likely to be generous with concessions in the post-election period unless there is some reciprocal compromise from the West.”

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