The Franco-Russian dialogue « of trust and security », as the Elysée Palace calls it, was relaunched on 26 June 2020 by a video-conference summit between Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron. This dialogue was initiated by the French President when he invited his Russian counterpart to Brégançon on 19 August 2019. The Head of State decided to visit Russia at the end of August. How to prepare this summit well, with a Russian President destined to remain in power for at least another decade?
The French aim is to put an end to the triple fault line in European security – the latent conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the sanctions and counter-sanctions between the EU and Moscow, and the digital hybrid war waged by Russian services against the infrastructures and social networks of European countries.
In late summer and autumn 2020, a window of opportunity will open for an improvement in EU-Russia relations. Indeed, the Americans, paralysed by their election campaign, will no longer be able to stand in the way. Putin, for his part, has realised that there is no point in waiting for the outcome of the US elections. In either case, he loses.
With Joe Biden, the Democrats will continue their traditional anti-Russian confrontation in the name of human rights. If Trump is re-elected, mistrust is de rigueur because behind the intentions attributed to the current American president, there is the reality of the facts. As the Carnegie Center in Moscow notes, Russian-American relations will never have been as bad since the Second World War as after four years of Trump. Under Stalin or under Brezhnev, Washington had not imposed such sanctions on Moscow.
On the other hand, Putin knows that his alliance with China is not the Holy Grail. There will always remain a strong political solidarity between two authoritarian regimes fighting Western interference in the name of human rights. But China treats Russia as a kind supplier of raw materials, not as an equal power. The Kremlin will never agree to play the role of a minor ally, a second-rate partner. Since Peter the Great (1672-1725) took the reins of the country, Russia has never done so.
Moreover, the Russians never forget the long-term danger of a Sinisisation of Siberia. On the other hand, in the event of the reconstruction of a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis (which briefly existed during the opposition in 2003 to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Iraq), Russia would play a leading role.
This idea is not new. After sealing a strong partnership with the Federal Republic of Germany by inviting its chancellor to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in September 1958, General de Gaulle, in a speech in Strasbourg in November 1959, had already called for the constitution of a Europe « from the Atlantic to the Urals ». In a 2010 interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Putin spoke of a « Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok ». In a speech at the CDU congress in 2016 in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Chancellor Merkel dreamt of an economic area « from Vladivostok to Lisbon ».
But this vast project has no chance of growing if the three current loopholes are not closed. The resolution of the Donbass conflict lies in an amnesty law and broad political and cultural autonomy for this Russian-speaking region. However, it will only move forward if the Ukrainian President manages to free himself from nationalist pressure and if the Russian President forces the separatist leaders to give up the mafia’s exercise of power.
Sanctions penalise both the EU and Russia. They only help America. But the Europeans will never let them go without a counter gesture from Russia. It can give some in Ukraine and in cyber warfare.
In 2018, a Russian cyber-attack was uncovered at a French wind farm. Hostile implants were to be placed in the Enedis electricity distribution network, capable of triggering blackouts at any time. Instead of complaining, France should do the same with regard to the Russian installations, so that the Kremlin understands that it has no interest in continuing this little game. Instead of investing in the obsolete weapon of a second aircraft carrier, the French armies would do better to reinforce its Cyber Defense Command. In addition to nuclear deterrence, a credible cyber deterrent should be added.
Talking to the Russians from a position of weakness is useless. General de Gaulle understood this perfectly well. He made his historic trip to Moscow in July 1966 only after the French task force was operational .
This article was first published in Le Figaro. English translation courtesy of the RADIX think tank (www.radixuk.org)