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Eugenia Obichkina

Doctor of History, Professor at MGIMO-University, RIAC expert

Productive relations under the Russian-French dialogue were shattered by the Libyan crisis during the final year of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, while the Syrian conundrum has aggravated bilateral differences. The main problem lies in the lack of mutual trust about the reasons behind each country’s policies in Libya and Syria.

1. Russia's Interests toward France

1.1. As France promotes itself as a medium-sized power with international responsibilities, François Hollande has updated his country’s stance by stating that France is striving to become a noteworthy power (puissance repère), i.e. "a nation operating from positions beyond its own interests" [1]. Regarding Russia primarily as a formidable geopolitical power, Paris seeks stable cooperation with Moscow. Notably, regardless of their initial private views of Russia, all presidents of the Fifth Republic have invariably advocated for a special political relationship with the Kremlin while in office. With respect to promoting Russian interests, it is important to note that France has built its official foreign policy within the EU and NATO on the foundation of independent diplomacy proceeding from its membership in leading international groups (the Nuclear Club, UN Security Council, G8, and G20). These factors require both Moscow and Paris to maintain a permanent dialogue.

Importantly, during periods of crisis, France normally adheres to the priorities of the West and sides with NATO, but at the same time may deviate from the U.S on certain issues, generating mistrust and annoyance in Washington.

Productive relations under the Russian-French dialogue were shattered by the Libyan crisis during the final year of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, while the Syrian conundrum has aggravated bilateral differences. The main problem lies in the lack of mutual trust about the reasons behind each country’s policies in Libya and Syria. Russia was certain that the military operation against Muammar Gaddafi initiated by Mr. Sarkozy exceeded the powers specified by the 1973 UN Security Resolution on the no-fly zone, while France regarded Russia’s stance as a manifestation of neo-imperialism. Mr. Sarkozy’s appeal to the Western community, the Europeans and the French public about “turning the Cold War page in relations with Russia” was directly linked to the sale of Mistral helicopter carrier. But the resultant conceptual breakthrough has brought only quantitative and qualitative gains in economic relations, failing to prevent a major chill caused by differences on Libya and later Syria.

1.2. Meanwhile, Russia requires dialogue, primarily because its existence helps it meet its security needs, those belonging to both the European and regional frameworks. Russia and France alike are facing domestic and external threats from the spread of WMD in peripheral zones of instability, taking place amidst the geographical proliferation and qualitative rise of Muslim extremist forces. First, this latter problem is becoming an organic part of Russia and France’s national agenda for social development. Second, it is demanding new and integrated solutions between the two countries. The clash of civilizations, due to growing international instability, should inevitably cause an implosion both in Russia and in France. The two countries share common goals, i.e. balancing within the international environment, first of all in the instability belt in the Middle and the Near East and the elimination of terrorist enclaves in Africa, whereas their methods still differ. In its dialogue with France, Russia should concentrate on common goals and avoid divergent approaches repeatedly called for by Mr. Hollande. It seems particularly important to pursue policies at international forums, international organizations (primarily through the United Nations), and at the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council.

1.3. With a new Russia-EU basic agreement not yet completed and the development of a common space becoming less likely, Russia should rely on bilateral relationships and the promotion of special interests of influential European states to advance multi-faceted cooperation. Although no longer an exclusive partner, France has kept up preferential relations with Russia inside the EU along with Germany, Italy and Poland, which recently joined this group. The 2008 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation places France second after Germany in the sufficiently long list of EU countries regarded as “a significant resource for the promotion of Russia’s national interests in European and global affairs, and for assistance in tilting Russia towards the path of innovational development”. As far as modernization alliances are concerned, France, Germany, Italy and the EU as a whole have been labeled privileged partners by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. These privileged relations are to be extended, primarily within bilateral and multilateral projects.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Alexei Nikolski

1.4. The interest in economic engagement is being currently augmented by achievements in technological and modernization-oriented cooperation. Apart from the purchase of the Mistral, quite a controversial project in view of its high-tech goals, one should also mention accomplishments in sectors beyond the traditionally cited energy, nuclear power, aerospace and chemicals fields. French companies are doing much to revive and advance the Russian automobile, aviation and food industries, as well as to build the previously nonexistent market for education services.

According to the European Commission Expert Group in Moscow, in 2010 France was first in terms of the number of effective agreements on dual-degree programs with Russian universities, ahead of Germany, Great Britain and other countries. Out of a total of 96, there are 32 programs in the hard sciences, 43 in economics and management, nine in law, political science and international relations, and six in hospitality and tourism. Interestingly, only six projects are for training linguists, with the first French-Russian master course, developed by MGIMO and Sciences0Po back in 1994, boasting 270 graduates. The bilateral university exchange programs annually attract about 2,000 students). Further helping to develop educational programs, in late 2010 the French Embassy in Russia launched the website UNIFR, which is designed to bring participants from bilateral university-level cooperation programs together and inform them of recent developments. The website connects undergraduates and graduates from the joint projects, universities offering student exchange services, businesses interested in specialists for jobs within the Russian-French framework, as well as individual partners like the French Institute, the French Embassy and European institutions.

The economy and education, the two key factors relevant to modernization and innovation-oriented economic recovery, are increasing the significance of scientific cooperation, which currently seems to offer more benefits to the Russian side.

2. Hurdles to the Realization of Russian Interests

2.1. Systemic Factors

2.1.1. Systemic factors are related to the different choices along the geopolitical perspective of the two countries, with a gap widening during Mr. Hollande's presidency. Following Jacque Chirac’s policy for a multipolar world and a special global project contesting Pax Americana, Mr. Sarkozy took France back to Atlanticism, with the pivot ramped up by the economic crisis and the similar stance by Mr. Hollande. In the late 2000s, the French economic community launched the idea of consolidation in the face of the new challenges, i.e. Muslim extremism in its security area and the fast economic expansion of China. Some called for the consolidation of Europe and Russia (the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis), while others wanted rapprochement between Russia and the West. However, the political class, official pundits and major economic entities were not involved. Remaining the brainchild of independent experts, retired professors and patrons of major international corporations in the absence of official consensus (la pensée unique), the concept received no support from decision makers.

Mr. Sarkozy pushed France to counter the new threats and challenges through greater consolidation in the West. However, while he was keen on “turning the Cold War page in relations with Russia” [2], Mr. Hollande came to power during times of a new confrontation between Russia and the West on Libya and Syria issues. The heart of the matter lies in the Western post-Cold War concept which places universal human rights above a state’s sovereign right to apply force within its borders [3]. Russia and China oppose this approach, insisting on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a state.

2.1.2. Beginning from the 2010s, the aftershocks of the global economic crisis (especially with regards to the euro) and the forceful geopolitical shift of economic growth and global competition from the Atlantic region to Asia Pacific have threatened to relegate the EU, France’s key foreign policy area and power multiplier, to the backyard of international relations. According to Mr. Sarkozy, “the world has entered the era of relative power” [4], indicating that the deep crisis of the European model, the collapse of the French project of European identity in foreign and security policy, and the crisis of the euro have led the path of the EU as a pole of the new world on par with the U.S.A. to a dead end.

Photo: Russia and France: 20 Proposals for
Long-Term Partnership
,by RIAC and French-Russian
think tank Observo

While under Mr. Sarkozy the French-German duo, a key factor in maintaining France’s leadership in European politics, was tilting toward Berlin, primarily in the economic arena. During Mr. Hollande's presidency and after elections in Germany, signs of their privileged dialogue are basically nonexistent. The low domestic ratings of the French president and his government are only intensifying the sense of troubles undermining France’s international prestige.

Facing these changes, Mr. Hollande has followed Mr. Sarkozy's play, even more decisively in the spirit of the Fourth Republic Socialists, in striving after moving towards the integrated West. On the other hand, in Europe he has taken to Mr. Chirac’s strategy of building a privileged relationship with Great Britain. In contrast to Germany, which relies on its own economic efforts, Paris has made a strategic choice to bolster military and political solidarity with the Anglo-Saxons, with an ideological stake on the international order resting on the Western liberal model that recognizes the right for humanitarian intervention and contests the inviolability of the state sovereignty. The French president has stood up for the implementation of the “right to protect the civilians” and the inclusion of this provision into the UN Charter as a justification of the use of force.

In contrast to François Mitterrand and Jacque Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and especially François Hollande have opted to join the Pax Americana, updated by Barack Obama, and further its amendment in the spirit of the French republican messianism, without rocking the boat with pinpointed remarks that could be seen as oppositional to the policy.

The choice has been obviously made in favor of traditional compensating factors of power. First, France has demonstrated strikingly its global responsibility by participating in the settlement of regional conflicts in the Mediterranean, the traditional zone of French influence, including its project of the Mediterranean Union (North Africa for Mr. Sarcozy and primarily Mali and Syria for Mr. Hollande). Second, during the Libyan and Syrian crises, primarily in the basic principles for their settlement, France has tried to share the leadership role with the U.S.A. by building a new Euro-Atlantic axis on an equal footing. Paris has become one of the harshest critics of Russia on Syria, including through the UN Security Council. France and Russia have displayed conflicting approaches to the Assad regime from the conflict’s onset. Paris demands the unconditional deposition of the Syrian president and seeks reliable partners within the Syrian opposition, while Moscow regards Bashar Assad as the stronghold of stability, allows the scenario of an exclusively political resolution, and opposes any settlement that excludes the participation of Damascus.

However, the policies of France, Atlantic in spirit and methods, have yet to deliver. France failed to keep control over the anti-Gaddafi operation, which was eventually taken up by NATO and the EU. The Lavrov-Kerry agreement on Syria emerged without French participation, although Paris initiated military pressure on Mr. Assad that was then put aside after the accords had been reached. However, this disillusionment may promote the Russian-French dialogue in the near future and revive France’s interest in a privileged partnership with Russia.

2.2. Subjective Factors

2.2.1. François Hollande is dependent on an electorate known to view differences with Russia as a potent irritant for humanitarian issues. He also cannot boast a level of cordiality in personal relations with Vladimir Putin, as well as with no other leader of allied and partner countries.

2.2.2. Mr. Hollande has repeatedly referred to his adherence to the foreign policies of François Mitterrand, while the Kremlin remembers well that it was Mr. Mitterrand who thought of integrating Russia into his European Confederation, the matrix for Greater Europe. At the same time, policies toward Moscow have been linked to human rights issues, as was specified by the 1992 Russian-French accords. Having ascended to the presidency in the midst of the Cold War, Mr. Mitterrand gave up the institutionalized practice of Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Éstaing of annually holding Russian-French summits to discuss global and European problems. Mr. Mitterrand backed up his position in declaring that “Paris would not appreciate passionate hugging in Moscow, while Afghanistan and Warsaw are shedding tears” [5]. However, during the global economic crisis he insisted on dynamic economic and energy-related cooperation with Moscow, while defending the independence of Paris’s foreign policy decisions from Washington along these particular lines. This is exactly the logic of continuity of Mr. Mitterrand’s policy that the ruling Socialists are used to defining as Mitterrand-Gaullist.

Addressing the ambassadors on August 27, 2013, Mr. Hollande assigned Russia to last place among global centers of development in view of France’s economic efforts, after China (honored by several paragraphs), as well as after India, Japan, Brazil and South Africa. In addition, Russia was also meant to perceive such a banality as “we know what brings us together – history, economy and culture” with a shade of the equally usual ambiguity: “…but we also know what separates us, while this openness makes it possible for us to go further.” Following recent traditions, this approach has been inappropriate for cooperation with communist China, but the comparison with Russia appears quite logical since Mr. Hollande went on: “My duty lies in the pervasive assertion of our commitment to the observance of human rights”.

2.2.3. The absence of signals toward a positive French-Russian agenda, as well as the stress placed on ideological differences, point to the main obstacle to the development of the bilateral dialogue, which can be negotiated only through the fairly lengthy evolution of the Russian government, political class and society. At the same time, the comparison of Mr. Hollande's approaches to cooperation with China and Russia may suggest an air of relativity. First, the reference to differences with Russia on human rights was meant basically for the French public, primarily the Socialists' electorate. Second, practical French-Chinese relations since the late 1980s and the priority placed on economic diplomacy promoted by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius prove that humanitarian issues evaporate if France’s vital economic interests are at stake.

3. Drivers of Russia's Interests

Photo: www.diplomatie.gouv.fr
Infographic : France and the UN Security Council

3.1. In order to retain its global and European roles, France can hardly afford to neglect relations with Russia. Although noteworthy common interests are currently nonexistent and profound differences are everywhere, this above-mentioned factor is compelling French diplomacy under Mr. Hollande to maintain a working dialogue with Moscow within the existing formats of continuous engagement, i.e. the annual intergovernmental seminar with the participation of prime ministers, the Russian-French Economic, Financial, Industrial and Trade Council, and the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council. In addition, as has been noted, due to the economic crisis, Mr. Fabius is placing a priority on economic diplomacy. Russia's two-decades-long passage towards a market economy and France's energetic assistance given to its market-oriented reforms, including those in the area of education, in addition to the above-mentioned institutions and evolving legal framework, have generated a firm ground for economic and social interaction independent of presidential policies.

Political will, large-scale joint projects and even compact pilot projects can contribute greatly to the development of the bilateral relationship. One such project was the reciprocal Russian-French Year in 2010, which has significantly expanded French economic participation in Russia, as France rose from the fifth position in overall foreign investment in Russia in 2010 to the third position today. Unfortunately, there was no breakthrough in the development of Russia’s economic presence in France.

3.2. In the near future, Mr. Hollande's foreign policy will be affected by the U-turn in the Syrian settlement caused by the Lavrov-Kerry accords. French diplomacy is concerned over the strengthening of the Russian-American dialogue on global and regional security problems. Russia should make us of French jealousy in order to develop a special Russian-French dialogue that would be helpful for Moscow in solving the Syrian and Iranian problems.

4. Practical Steps for Advancing Russian Interests in the Near Future

4.1. Geopolitical Issues

4.1.1. Conceptually, it appears reasonable to clarify at all levels of bilateral interaction that the course geared at the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union, unquestionably prioritized by President Putin, fully complies with the European choice. In particular, Mr. Putin has labeled the ostensibly incompatible paths of Ukraine toward the Eurasian Union and the EU as false bifurcation. No doubt, trust in this policy should depend on the provision of adequate about of Russia's response to the EU talks on association of Ukraine and other countries within the common neighborhood.

4.1.2. Since Russian diplomacy is not going to give up the principle of inviolability of state sovereignty, Moscow may count on France's support in the cooperative multipolarity project. However, France is hardly likely to soon become a protagonist within a substantive dialogue about the alter-globalist BRICS platform. Moreover, it is not sensible to hope that Paris will drop the concept of the humanitarian intervention that is currently running against Russian interests.

The cooperative multipolarity model essentially fits into the foreign policy tradition of the Fifth Republic, finding support with the Gaullists, as seen from the address of French ex-premier François Fillon to the international discussion club Valdai in September 2013, and even the National Front. Hence, it seems able to bring French society back to a foreign policy consensus. In addition, a mutual understanding with Russia might elevate the role of both countries in the settlement of the Iran question, which appears especially important in view of the initial steps taken by Hassan Rouhani toward a dialogue with the West and his rhetoric prior to the UN General Assembly. Mr. Hollande has already met with the president of Iran in New York and seems eager to have France’s leading positions in this dialogue with Iran preserved. However, the United States may contest this role and increase the risk of ousting France from the process. Russia and France are both interested in the balanced cooperation of powers in handling the Iranian and Syrian issues, although Russia enjoys an obvious advantage in view of Washington’s interest in close cooperation with Moscow, a fact that actually appears decisive with regards to the Syrian question.

4.2. The moment has come for another review of France’s foreign policy tilt toward the Atlantic in favor of a more independent policy, as was the case with François Mitterrand in mid-1980s. According to Mr. Hollande, such a policy provides for the “sovereignty of decisions with allegiance to alliances, European solidarity and bilateral treaties”. This reminder appears fundamental for the Russia-France dialogue, since in order to defend policy of self-sufficiency within NATO and the EU, Paris has repeatedly employed rapprochement with Russia, for example on Iran in 2003. Russian diplomacy could engage France into a bilateral dialogue on Syria, using (1) its aspirations to get back into the driving seat of the process; and (2) available French links with the National Council and Qatar, the two protagonists of the anti-Assad opposition. By consenting to Geneva-2, France has already abandoned its initial stand, i.e. the exclusion of Mr. Assad from talks on a Syrian political settlement in order to make him an object for international efforts. At the same time, Paris would not like to have its international clout questioned through the removal of the opposition from the political settlement.

It also appears critical that although the Lavrov-Kerry compromise has ousted France from the group of decision makers, it has also helped both Mr. Obama and Mr. Hollande to save face. First, the French president’s forceful language and readiness for a military strike against Syria failed to muster support from his electorate. Second, he has been long aware of the ambiguity (at least) in the nature, composition, ultimate aims and real weight of the Syrian rebels supported by France and other Friends of Syria. Not coincidentally, the Syrian opposition leaders were frustrated by Mr. Hollande during their meeting in Paris in August 2013, as the president refused to get involved militarily in the conflict on the opposition’s side.

Mr. Hollande is certain to have doubts about the match between the opposition’s intentions and Western interests, as well as about the rebels’ readiness to accept the concept still conditionally labeled as Pax Americana, which is nowadays free of the French accent. However under Mr. Obama, this model has moved closer to the global project of Jacque Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy then to the plans of George W. Bush.

France’s enthusiasm for a privileged dialogue with Russia hinges on Moscow’s ability to influence Bashar Assad and push him toward concessions and consistent cooperation with the United Nations in the implementation of the resolution that reflects Russia’s clout. To a great extent, the success of the bilateral mediating dialogue in the search of a political settlement in Syria depends on Mr. Assad’s eagerness for levelheaded cooperation with the duo. France fears that Bashar Assad may take advantage of the respite, while Russia’s role in the scheme appears ambiguous. And it is Russian diplomacy that must handle this issue of trust, the stakes being much higher than the Syria settlement.

4.3. European Security

The Russian-French duo might also join forces for advancing the European project with the resultant growth of mutual trust. It should be recalled that the idea of the OSCE emerged from the privileged Soviet-French dialogue in late 1960s. Both France and the EU were halfheartedly interested in the recent Russian draft treaty on European security, which failed to become a subject for negotiations. Paris regards the proposed Russian principles as an attempt to diminish the role of NATO in maintaining security “from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” One more barrier lies in Russia’s role in the frozen conflicts, i.e. Transnistria, Karabakh, and the unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the near future we might expect revived attention to these issues, since the EU under the Lithuanian presidency seems willing to complete the talks on association agreements with the interested countries, i.e. Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, which may also mean the revitalization of the issue of their NATO membership.

The future of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) is of concern both for Russia and France, who would like to have it revived (le remettre sur pied) but finds it difficult to compel the Baltic states to change their stance and nearly impossible to influence the United States.

One more project of this kind concerns the discussion of the terms for defense cooperation between Russia, the EU and NATO.

While discussing the project related to the participation of Russian military helicopters in the EU operation in Chad, Russia wanted to become part of the decision-making process. However, Europe did not agree, at the same time rejecting U.S. influence.

However, gradual progress in Russia-EU relations over the settlement of military crises (interopérabilité) is a task that can and should be done, though with its fair share of new challenges. Trust could be strengthened primarily though mutual notification. If a dialogue exists, the sides could explain its developments, compare their analyses and arrive at positions closer to one another, accentuating common goals but not differing approaches.

France and Russia have the potential to develop into a European duo operating not only in the EU space, but across all of Europe and its Asian neighborhood. This means that under this scenario Russia could attract France to participate in this dialogue by offering a role in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The format of consultations could be expanded. In the summer of 2010, Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev with support from Nicolas Sarcozy suggested setting up a Russia-EU Foreign Policy and Security Committee. The initiative has changed even more so due to the inclusion of Poland, the third member of the Weimar Triangle.

4.4. The Rejection of Stereotypes and Changing Russia’s Image in France

French society and its political class have been brought up in a rule-of-law environment based on the supremacy of individual rights. The French regard it as an ethical foundation, guide for practical behavior and criterion for assessing all other issues. This has been both a long-term characteristics and the basis for Russia’s negative image in France for several centuries. As a result, it is the issue of democracy that inevitably defines French attitudes towards Russia.

In the short term, a significant alleviation of differences over humanitarian issues may emerge from separate perspectives, as the French public is closely watching changes in Russia’s electoral practices.

In the medium term, the tradition of republican messianism, specific to French foreign policy, could be employed for developing Russian statehood, along with a proliferation of French practices, first of all in the humanitarian area. The short- and medium-term programs seem relatively feasible, since the basis for bilateral cooperation in this field is already available.

4.4.1. During the presidencies of Messrs. Sarcozy and Hollande, Paris refrained from mentorship in its relations with Moscow, which does not imply that the French have nothing to offer for the advancement of Russian democracy. The key problem of Russia’s democratic development was faced by France back in the 19th century and has been undergoing reconciliation due to universal suffrage in the absence of a politically knowledgeable and conscientious electorate. Alexis de Tocqueville attempted to solve the conundrum of the case of American democracy. France required successive revolutions and, what is more important, tireless and pervasive propaganda waged by gifted representatives of the nascent republican political elite in every township, village and backyard to overcome the mistrust of the political establishment and electorate in the democratic republic. This republic was founded on the basis of a moral order, the only path for setting up a stable political organism, conditions for legal and nonviolent political transformations, and dialogue between social groups and the state. To this end, the obvious dichotomy in the quality of the Russian and French democracies might be compensated by the historical commonality of the problem.

4.4.2. Following from this claim, the second condition lies in understanding the public interest, which already exists among Russia’s political establishment and bureaucracy, although in an underdeveloped form. This is the key difference between French and Russian elites, and in no small measure between lawmakers. In this context, France may offer an instructive example for demonstrating the apriority of public interest against the backdrop of continuous government change.

Several years ago a Russian delegation visited the National Assembly, but French deputies were not overly impressed by Russian parliamentary democracy. In the first place, they were shocked the behavior of their counterparts. In the future, this negative impression seems quite easily avoidable as MPs and bureaucrats could create a target group to remake codes of conduct, taboos and values of their French colleagues.

4.4.3. The lack of reliable firsthand information about each other invariably leads to mutual alienation. For example, during the Chechen war, envoys of Aslan Maskhadov were invited to speak in the National Assembly. The French lawmakers, as they later acknowledged, lacked unbiased data substantiating Russia’s stance, while their Russian colleagues did not take the trouble to make their position clear. The same refers to the Russian-Georgian conflict and largely to the clarification of the motivation and aims of the Kremlin’s foreign and domestic policies, as well as Russia’s approaches to other security matters. The French foreign and defense ministries, possibly other agencies cooperating with Russia, and even the media suffer from a shortage of dialogue and information. The gap could be filled by one-time workshops already being implemented by MGIMO, such as events for the French Foreign Service staff several years ago and those carried out for a large delegation from the Defense Ministry with invited journalists, who later admitted to radical changes in their views and a better grasp of Russia’s policies.

4.4.4. The get-to-know-you programs may assist in overcoming the informational and cultural gaps between Russian and French societies. These workshops could be intended for (1) Russian lawmakers and government executives participating in French-Russian cooperation at all levels, and (2) representatives of French organizations and institutions. It is essential to staff the Russian side with those familiar with the political culture of France and who are able to help the audience move towards an empathic perception of foreign cultures. Appropriate personnel have been made available during the years of dynamic scientific and educational cooperation between the two countries.

4.4.5. Similar efforts should be made in the education sector, especially for postgraduate studies and training of Russian bureaucracy, with Sciences Po and the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration currently discussing prospects. There are several joint programs and French proposals orientated to the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Substantially supported by the Russian Government (an allocation of targeted grants with strict selection of candidates by a bilateral commission to preclude corruption), such projects may not only offer studies of the fundamental principles and conditions for the performance of liberal democracies but also generate the prerequisites for building a state based on the rule-of-law and eliminating the parochial mentality in the Russian bureaucracy.

4.4.6. Noticeably present in France, the new Russian capitalists have yet to acquire the respectable modest charm common to the French economic elite. Energetic cultural expansion may attract aesthetes and the educated public, while only slightly helping to overcome the stereotype of an affluent and egotistic Russia. In this vein, such small deeds as the promotion of the Russian government and private grants for the French for receiving education in Russia present a long-term investment, which seems more effective. In its turn, the French government is extending grants to Russian students to study in France. The policy is aimed at helping train future managers, so the grants are usually offered to masters students on a competitive basis. The applicants are assisted by Campus France, a specialized government agency for promoting French higher education abroad. Such a practice appears could be applicable for Russia as well. At that, Russia’s assistance to French students is definitely neglected by the media and through other outlets, with only separate institutions and private companies engaged in the activity. For example, MGIMO has been providing the masters degree students with BP grants for several years. Many former grantees are employed by agencies involved in Russian-French economic and cultural relations, furthering educational cooperation from their positions.

To this end, it is not accidental that the Russian Church project near the Eiffel Tower is continuously running into demands to have it better integrated into the landscape. The beautiful Russian Park with pavilions, a stylish but unpretentious library, audio and film repositories, and regular Russian fairs (first of all, gastronomic events highly praised by the French accustomed to them because of weekly shopping there) could make an excellent center of attraction for the French public.

4.5. The fabric of mutual understanding and cooperation is undeniably gaining strength through Russian-French educational projects, including the dual-degree programs, which are drawing students from different countries seeking jobs in the sphere of Russian-French cooperation. Communities of educational program graduates in France and Russia have already joined a consolidated group of bilateral cooperation protagonists. The added attractiveness of the programs comes from the encouragement and high demand for the community members, who may use the platform to advance their careers. A forum of Russian-French university program graduates of any level (similar to last year’s event for MGIMO graduates held by Azerbaijan President Aliyev with logistical and financial support from businesses, embassies and soft-power institutions, for example the Russkiy Mir Foundation) could offer both good publicity and a field for building a Russian-Francophone cultural network within the professional communities of both countries.

4.6. One can hardly overestimate the role of languages, with Francophonia and Russophonia providing the basis for communication and mutual understanding. The Russian-French educational market has been overwhelmed by a retreat from the French language in favor of English, which is an objective although an adverse trend. The greatest damage is being suffered by the humanities and foreign relations studies that are acquiring the Anglo-Saxon, primarily the American political science tradition and consequently the American worldview. To this end, it is appropriate to make use of the growing interest of Europeans in jobs in Russia and in the Russian language for advancing education in Russian. A key role should be given to the Russian Center of Science and Culture in Paris which is already doing much to achieve this goal. The situation requires the development and legitimization of a universal international standard for assessing the language level similar to TOEFL in English and DALF and TCF in French, as well as the advancement of Russian language learning in major French universities using the training programs for this certificate exam. Also helpful are the practices of Alliance Française, a cultural and educational NGO operating in seven cities of Russia. However, standardization has yet to be achieved, which hampers the selection of candidates for Russian-language programs, especially their initial steps into Russian universities.

4.7. The fallout of the economic crisis has rekindled French interest in economic cooperation with Russia, while emerging stagnation of Russian industry is pushing Moscow into joint efforts to surmount these difficulties, with two key problems in this area being investment and technology.

4.7.1. One of Russia's priorities along these lines is the liberalization of the French investment climate, while France is also concerned with whether all Russian economic sectors are open to its capital, primarily in the hydrocarbons industry. Mutual concessions and guarantees offer a promising path for Russian investments in France.

4.7.2. During crises, strategies should be focused on changing the approach to Russian capital in France, which could be attained by raising the social responsibility of Russian business there.

4.7.3. Launched by the Mistral contract and the agreement on the joint use of the Kourou space center and followed up by accords between the Rostechnologies and Sagem, the implementation of joint high-tech projects in strategic sectors (defense and aerospace industries) meets the objectives of modernizing Russia's defense sector and overcoming the political and technological barriers inherited from the Cold War.

4.7.4. Russian economic interests in France could be promoted by a minor economic council of Russian ambassador in Paris which seems appropriate for discussing issues related to targeted assistance on behalf of Russian and French governments, as well as for monitoring the situation.

4.7.5. Immensely important is tourism, an area in which France is far ahead of Russia. In recent years, Paris has done much to ease visa procedures for Russian citizens. However, Russia appears to be using the issuance of visas to French citizens as a tool to squeeze out their cancellation. According to visitors and clients, the Russian Visa Center in Paris, modeled after its French counterpart in Moscow which operates without a stitch, has complicated the procedure instead of making things easier. The heart of the matter appears to lie neither in the concept nor in the institution itself but in the staff and the offensive red tape. It appears timely to remind the personnel that their responsiveness and affability are defining Russia's image in France and that they should be honored to open doors to Russia for the French.

4.7.6. As far as tourism is concerned, it would be practical to use the Eurasian Union and CIS platform to revive the Moscow-St. Petersburg-Central Asia tours that were extremely popular among Frenchmen in the Soviet period; to create a single tourist space; to establish international tourist pools with French participation and European standards; and support these programs with a large-scale media campaign on the level of the government with an invariable focus on travel safety.

Reuters
Russian proposals for the elimination
of Syrian chemical weapons could
not have come at a better time
both for Paris and Washington

5. Conclusions

5.1. There are no grounds to regard the Russia policy as a key track of French foreign policy during the Hollande presidency. Mr. Hollande has given marginal attention to these issues, although this does not imply a neglect of developing relations with Moscow. Not coincidentally, the position of the special representative on Russia at the French Foreign Ministry has been given to Jean-Pierre Chevènement, one of the most experienced and independently thinking leftwing politicians who directly links the need for close interaction with Russia, among other things on Syria, with the common threat emanating from radical Islam.

Dialogue with Russia undoubtedly remains on the French diplomatic agenda but due to numerous factors (battling the economic and the euro crises, difficulties within the French-German duo, the French operation in Mali and the aggravation of the Syrian situation) France has yet to elaborate a consistent Russia strategy.

Advancing the bilateral dialogue should account for the fundamental (although unrecognized directly by France) differences in approaches to global problems. Russia espouses a conservative stance (conservative pragmatism), while France is revolutionary minded. Moscow and Paris insist on the respect of international law and the prerogatives of the UN Security Council in the settlement of international crises, albeit with a significant reservation voiced by Mr. Hollande at the 21st Ambassadors' Conference in August 2013. According to the French president, international law should evolve in step with the spirit of times, implying the recognition the principle of responsibility to protect the civilians adopted by the UN general Assembly in 2005.

Mr. Hollande's domestic troubles, flagging popularity ratings and the declining role of France in the EU, on the one hand, complicate the course toward a privileged dialogue with Russia by the humanitarian component. On the other hand, these factors should assist developments related to economic cooperation.

5.2. The history of relations between Paris and Moscow, including during the Cold War period, indicates that bilateral ideological differences fade away as soon motivation for privileged engagements arises.

This incentive might as well be found in the Syrian settlement, since France, just like Russia, in principle prefers political solutions to unilateral military action. Since Mr. Hollande’s belligerent rhetoric found support neither with the French public nor with European partners, Russian proposals for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons could not have come at a better time both for Paris and Washington. Moscow's initiative has served to postpone the strike against Damascus and show the way out of an embarrassing situation. At the same time, France has become more interested in a special relationship with Russia on Syria. Otherwise, it would be ousted from the process because of the Russian-American rapprochement.

5.3. The addition of the Syria issue to the Russian-French privileged security dialogue (plus the problems related to Iran and Afghanistan), the focus on common aims and, the attempt to overcome historical differences may bring the bilateral relationship to the fiduciary level. Russian diplomacy could use the special format for engaging France and its European allies during the discussion of a proposed European security system, including the upgrade of the CFE Treaty.

5.4. As before, France has limited resources for influencing U.S. decisions guiding NATO European policies, especially on the BMD issue. However, we should not forget its role in the rejection of the NATO Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008. Because these countries may acquire a new status toward the EU pending on the outcome of the association negotiations, eastward expansion may as well be back among NATO's priorities. France carries sufficient clout on this matter, making the fiduciary dialogue with Paris especially important.

The effectiveness of the Russia-France privileged relationship should grow in step with the number of its supporters inside the European Union. Hence, it appears sensible to hold this format, augmented by other protagonists of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the European Union and Russia, among them Germany, Italy, Spain, and especially Poland and Slovakia, and the new EU members. Of particular significance is reversing the subjective trend during recent years specific to Mr. Hollande's diplomacy, which has concentrated on conceptual differences in the approaches of the two countries in the absence of new global-level image-building dossiers for the bilateral interaction. This gap should be filled by engagement in the special relationship focused on the multifaceted coverage of European and Euro-Atlantic security (including the Mediterranean and Central Asia) and based on mutual concern for the need to overcome the crisis through the development and deepening of economic cooperation.

In the long term, the consistency of this partnership will hinge on whether Russia's current modernization drive will basically follow the European path.

1. Discours de M. Le Président de la République. XXIème Conférence des Ambassadeurs. 27 août 2013 (http://www.ambafrance.ru; http://www.ambafrance-ru.org/Konferenciya-Poslov). See original: "la Nation qui s’exprime au-delà de ses propres intérêts."

2. Mr. Sarkozy made the statement during Mr. Medvedev's visit to Paris in March 2010. Previously, speaking on French mediation in the Caucasus settlement in August 2008, Mr. Sarkozy called for rejection of ideological schemes for the sake of peacemaking: "Europe must be fair and resolutely give up the ideological schemes for the sake of peace." (Allocution devant le Parlement Européen, Strasbourg, 21 octobre 2008. P. 1).

3. Les nouvelles relations internationales, sous la direction de M.-Cl. Smouts. P.: Presses de Sciences Po, 1998; Badie B. La Diplomatie des droits de l’homme. P.: Fayard, 2002.

4. Discours de M. Le Président de la République. XVIème Conférence des Ambassadeurs. 27 août 2008. P. 3.

5. An explanation for Mr. Mitterrand’s refusal to hold regular French-Soviet summits was provided by Jean-Louis Gergorin, Director of Centre for Analysis, Planning and Strategy at French Foreign Ministry (under Pierre Mauroy) in February 1982. Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation. File 136, List 66, Entry 163, Document 10, Page 67.

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