“With respect to Russia, there is no noticeable difference between the EU and the US”

“With respect to Russia, there is no noticeable difference between the EU and the US”

Interview with Philippe Migault, questions asked by Eléonore de Vulpillières, France

Le Figaro: In an interview on French-speaking Swiss TV RTS [Radio Télévision Suisse] on 28 July, Vladimir Putin denounced US pressure, deploring the lack of independence in the EU. He stated: “It is not in the interest of Russia to confront other states, but sometimes we are forced to protect our interests and there is no doubt that we will continue to do so.” What do you think about these statements?

Philippe Migault: Regarding the question of European independence from the US, nobody can claim that Vladimir Putin was wrong. Lacking the means and a clear and uniform political view in foreign policy among its 28 members, the EU lines itself up with the US-American positions, particularly due to the influence of the northern European states that are strongly oriented towards the Atlantic like Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, but also those of the East like Poland and the Baltic states. Now and then the French and the Germans are trying to introduce a different tune. They did this emphatically in 2003 when they, together with the Russians, refused to support the American assault on Iraq. But these times are over. Since the resignation of Chirac and Schröder, the Atlanticists in Paris and Berlin have the upper hand again. Certainly, there was Minsk II, but what was the result?
As far as Russia’s imperative to defend its interests is concerned, this is natural – it is the basic mandate of each head of state deserving this title.

According to Bruno Le Roux, president of the Socialist Faction in the National Assembly, the recent tour of ten French parliamentarians to the Crimean means “submissiveness and a disgrace for the French parliament”. What do you think of this statement?

I think the expression “submissiveness” is unjustified. There are regularly journeys of representatives of the Socialist Party to states which are governed in a much more dictatorial way than Russia. Remember that Francois Hollande visited Saudi Arabia several times, even with a sabre in his hand, side by side with the Saudi royal family, although decapitations with a similar sabre are daily business there. Is it submissiveness to have discussions with people who do not share one’s opinions? I do not think so. To allow discussions only with states sharing our opinions would be very restricting for our diplomatic relations: then there would hardly be anyone left to discuss with. So the expression “submissiveness” is rather an exaggeration than a realistic analysis. The expression “disgrace”, however, would be much more suitable for situations when the French parliament has disgraced itself by refraining from protesting against visits of heads of state who are respecting human rights much less than Russia.

According to Jean-Marie Le Guen [parliamentary undersecretary, ed.] these representatives have placed themselves “outside international law”. Is this a valid argument? Do you think that Russia is targeted harder than other states?

It is obvious that there are double standards when dealing with Russia. Russia is not pardoned for acts that are accepted without any questions from other states. Mr Le Guen is talking of “international law”, but the Russians are well aware that there are double standards and that the West can very well do without that international law as they did Kosovo or in Iraq. Others, like Russia, have to respect international law to the letter. I would like to remind you of an event which does not disturb Mr Le Guen: for some months now, Saudi Arabia and its allies of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been bombing Yemen without any UN Security Council mandate. It does not disturb France to sell weapons to these states. It is a paradox to act as the scandalised innocent, refusing to deliver Mistral ships to Russia while having no restraints to sell weapons and technology to the Gulf states.

France has acknowledged the independence of the Kosovo but did not acknowledge the referendum which again makes the Crimean a Russian region …

In 1999 we invaded the Kosovo with the same neglect of international law which the West still tramples underfoot. We neglected Resolution 1199 of the UN Security Council which did not warrant military action against Serbia outside a UN resolution: Together with the US and Great Britain, France has bombed this country without a UN resolution! From the standpoint of international law, this was completely illegal. We have supported Resolution 1244 which explicitly stipulated that the Kosovo should remain Serbian, as a widely autonomous province. We are facing a new kind of Cold War which those minds can never forget who see merely Russia as the enemy. The Russian power is seen as a threat that needs to be contained.

Is the break deepening between those who want to maintain the dialogue with Russia and the supporters of the Euro-Atlantic diplomacy?

Your expression “break” is correct. We have left rational thinking. Invectives are flying back and forth between the camps. I am considered a supporter of the French-Russian dialogue: I am regularly called an “agent paid by Moscow”, as an “FSB agent” [FSB is the Russian Federal Security Service, ed.] who gets his orders from the Kremlin, even as traitor of my country. Dialogue or a rational exchange is no longer possible, McCarthyism rules. Those who do not conform to the Euro-Atlantic policy are considered enemies of their home country and kept away from decision making, both in the private and the public sector.
Thierry Mariani [former minister, currently parliamentarian (Les Républicains) for the French living abroad, ed.] is announcing another trip to the Crimean for next October. How will these tight connections between the parliamentarians change the French-Russian relations?
Unfortunately not at all, because these parliamentarians are far from being representative for the majority of the parliament. At most they allow keeping up an alternative tie of French diplomacy towards Russia, an amicable relation which demonstrates that there are numerous French citizens who consider the policy of sanctions absurd and counterproductive.

What is your assessment of the future French-Russian relations from a diplomatic and economic viewpoint?

Currently they are in a deadlock and there they will stay like as long as Russia is considered an enemy of France. In reality there are no serious differences between France and Russia, but a lot of common interests. As long as the people who have a peaceful and reasonable view of diplomacy do not take things into their hands, the problem will continue.

Can France improve its relations with Russia in the framework of the European Union?

With respect to Russia, there is no noticeable difference between the EU and the US! The EU does not have an own diplomacy because their members’ interests often differ. Federica Mogherini [High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] does not speak a word that might contradict American interests. The independence of France from the US is nothing but hot air. With regard to TTIP we can easily see that we are willing to give up our economic independence. Resuming stable diplomatic relations between France and Russia cannot take place in the framework of the EU, but only bilaterally. But since we have been joining the Euro-Atlantic camp under full sail ten years ago, that is, since the return of France into the integrated NATO command structure, initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy, and since this Atlanticism is fully shared by Francois Hollande, we will never dare to take a position that might deviate from that of the US.

*    Philippe Migault is Senior Research Fellow at the “French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs” in Paris (Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques, IRIS) and a member of the “Centre d’études des modes d’industrialisation – Ecole des Hautes études en sciences sociales, CEMI-EHESS” (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). From 1999 to 2006 he was reporter and expert on defense issues for “Le Figaro” and reported from many crisis areas (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Haiti, Lebanon, ...). In his teaching he is particularly concerned with security and defense issues, issues concerning the arms industry and the dual technologies in Russia and in the European Union as well as with political, economic and defense issues of the Russian Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Source: © Philippe Migault, Eléonore de Vulpillières/LeFigaro.fr/2015

(Translation Current Concerns)

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