It was a nicely set trap, with bait that Russian President Vladimir Putin could not refuse.
The new French President Emmanuel Macron invited the Russian leader on May 29 to the Palace of Versailles, where an exhibition was to open the next day about 1717 visit of Russian czar Peter the Great to France. Putin displays a portrait of Peter the Great in his office and fancies himself as a leader on par with the czar.
Moreover, Putin’s visit came just days after a moody G7 summit in Italy that saw cracks widen in the Western alliance, primarily between the European Union, led by Germany, and the United States and Britain. Putin seeks to divide the West.
And that came after a NATO summit in Brussels at which U.S. President Donald J. Trump had failed to explicitly reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the bedrock proposition that an attack on one is an attack on all. Putin wants to weaken NATO and Trump is inexplicably playing into his hands.
Ahead of Putin’s meeting with Macron, Alexey Pushkov, a Russian senator, crowed that former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy of isolating Russia “has quietly passed away.”
Other commentators said this was a chance for Russia and France to “reset” relations, which the Kremlin saw as having come to an impasse under former French President Francois Hollande.
But after two hours of talks, which Macron described as “extremely frank and direct,” the two leaders emerged for a press conference. This is when the French president sprang his trap.
With Putin standing beside him, Macron denounced the activities of Kremlin-controlled media RT and Sputnik, which he described as “propaganda tools.” He accused them of spreading lies about him and his campaign in order to interfere in the vote in France. Putin, growing tight-lipped and looking increasingly uncomfortable, was then forced to listen as Macron denounced the attacks on homosexuals in Chechnya.
Macron also raised the possibility of escalating sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin continues to ignore the Minsk peace agreement and fails to call off its war against Ukraine. At a press conference following the G7 meeting, Macron did not mince words, stating that “Russia invaded Ukraine.” That’s no secret, but Western leaders usually waffle around the semantics.
With his direct talk to Putin, Macron made it clear there will be no “reset” of French-Russian relations until Russia starts following the rules of international civilization. Fears in Kyiv that France, historically friendly to Russia, would sell Ukraine out have been assuaged.
Now, amazingly, Ukraine has to worry more about America’s position.