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 Fillon's victory in France unlikely to help Russia get rid of sanctions, - Financial Times

As long as Berlin maintains sanctions against Moscow, Paris will not try to resist it.

Censor.NET reports citing special adviser at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique François Heisbourg's article for Financial Times.

He notes that the foreign policy does not usually figure prominently in French presidential campaigns but, when it does, it tends to involve Russia.

In 1981, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was not helped in his failed bid for re-election by accusations that he had served as Brezhnev's petit télégraphiste after having met his Soviet counterpart as the Red Army was occupying Afghanistan; and in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy sought and obtained political advantage by denouncing Russian president Vladimir Putin's war in Chechnya.

Read more: Lifting Russia sanctions will hand victory to Moscow, - France's Foreign Minister Ayrault

"As these examples suggest, the French electorate is not particularly pro-Russian," Heisbourg says.

He adds that last week, a reputable opinion poll stated that 61 percent of respondents approved maintaining economic sanctions imposed against Russia after its annexation of Crimea, while only a quarter wanted France to leave NATO.

Now the Russophile views of the leading conservative candidate, François Fillon, are at the center of a debate fueled by President Putin's surprising compliments on Nov. 23 vis à vis Mr Fillon, whom he (rightly) deemed to be a "great professional."

Read more: UK, Polish PMs: Sanctions against Russia must be maintained until Minsk deal implemented, Ukraine must be granted support

This raises two rather different questions: will this help Mr Fillon get elected; and, if he is, what does this mean for French diplomacy?

According to Heisbourg, in the first round of the presidential election in April he can count on the center-right as a whole but he will also want to poach a maximum number of votes from the National Front and clip the wings of its leader Marine Le Pen. Those voters are massively pro-Putin.

There is bad and good news on the potential consequences for France's diplomatic and strategic positioning. The bad news is that Mr Fillon is not being merely opportunistic on the Putin question. He has pursued this course for many years, long before he was a possible candidate for the presidency. Ties became particularly close between Messrs Fillon and Putin when the two men were prime ministers during the Medvedev presidency in Russia.

Read more: Moscow strongly suspected of cultivating extremists in Hungary, - Financial Times

Nor is this a pure product of realpolitik on the Syrian issue, inspired for instance by President Barack Obama's failure to follow through with his threat of military intervention, leaving the field open to Russia's effective diplomatic and military intervention. At the time, Mr Fillon not only denounced a prospective American-French bombing operation but he did so from Russia, where he was with Mr Putin at the gathering of the Valdai club of senior officials and strategists. This caused some shock in Paris, since it is highly unusual and definitely bad form for a French politician to undercut his country's foreign policy from abroad.

In other words, he believes what he is saying and will not be easily moved: the politics of conviction can have drawbacks. The good news is that Mr Fillon has the sense of priorities of a serious politician with a strongly held Gaullist worldview. Close ties to the USSR and then Russia are part of that conceptual framework. But in that foreign policy vision, the future of French-German relations clearly takes precedence over a rapprochement with Russia. As long as Germany sticks to sanctions, France is unlikely to break ranks.

Read more: Russia sanctions can only be lifted after Minsk fully implemented, French president says

"Donald Trump in Washington, rather than Mr Fillon in Paris, may signal the lifting of sanctions and the end of western support to Ukraine, in which case the current European consensus on these issues will disintegrate, whoever is president in Paris," the expert points out.

"On a more speculative note, Mr Fillon's views on Mr Putin's Russia may also fall victim to another Gaullist trope: the unacceptable nature of the US and Russia striking a deal over France's head. Here the 1945 Yalta conference, when the two nascent superpowers carved up a post-war world, serves as the nightmare which no French leader can forget or countenance. Pro-Putinism in France would be one of the first victims of a Trump-Putin (or a Trump-Putin-Xi Jinping) remake of Yalta," Heisbourg concludes.
 
 
 
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