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Europe

Delegation of French MPs visit Russia, wanting stronger ties

media Les Republicains MP feels France could benefit from restoring ties with Russia. AFP/Patrick Kovarik

A delegation of French MPs starts the second day of its two-day visit to Russia on Friday. They are from the 'French-Russian Dialogue association' -- a group of French MPs who are friendly to Russia and who have visited the country several times over the past few years. They have also visited Crimea in the past and several of them have stated that Russia had the right to annex Crimea in 2014.

This group of MPs is known for thinking that the West is too harsh on Russia, and that France could benefit from restoring ties. Many of them feel that France has common interests with Russia – notably in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

“Russia is not an enemy in Europe; it should be a partner,” says Jacques Myard, a politician in France’s right-wing party Les Republicans, who is not part of the current delegation, but is widely considered to be relatively pro-Russian.

Myard acknowledges that “we have differences with Russia”, he highlights that “in combatting the Islamic State, we have good relations with Russia”, because “you cannot avoid that we have a common enemy”.

There is also a history of economic ties – and it’s notable that France was one of the few Western countries to sell military equipment to Russia before the 2014 Ukraine conflict.

Russia is a big market with abundant natural resources, but there’s much doubt as to whether France could significantly benefit from this. “The problem is that the justice system is not an independent branch of government in Russia,” says Galia Ackerman, an expert on Eastern Europe explains. “If you have a conflict of interest, if your contract is declared invalid in Russia, you have practically no ability to defend your interests.”

It is nevertheless worth noting that, historically, France has often tended to be less anti-Russian than Anglo-Saxon countries. During the Cold War, France withdrew from the NATO strategic command and often spoke of itself as a Third Force, between the US and Soviet Union.

All that said, of course, this delegation won’t have anywhere near as much bearing on Franco-Russian relations as what happens in this year’s wide-open Presidential elections in France.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and socialist Benoit Hamon favour a tough stance on Russia, while populist reactionary Marine Le Pen and right-wing Francois Fillon favour closer ties. But also, any attempts to water down the strong EU sanctions on Russia will have to get past German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who favours a tough anti-Putin stance.

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