France, Relations with

   Despite their lack of a common border, France and Russia share a dynamic history of bilateral relations dating back to the Napoleonic Era. During the Cold War, France—particularly under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle— plied a middle ground between its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, particularly the United States and Great Britain, and the Communist powers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China. Warm relations between Moscow and Paris were characteristic of the Jacques Chirac presidency (1995–2007). Chirac, known to be sympathetic to many of Russia’s concerns about Washington’s dominance of the international system, often worked to assuage Boris Yeltsin’s fears regarding NATO expansion and to establish the Russian Federation as a partner to the military alliance. France’s traditional pro-Serbia orientation also created a natural common front between Moscow and Paris during the 1990s. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, France and Russia often found common cause on issues related to counterterrorism and instability in South Asia and other troubled regions. Economic relations are robust; France is one of the largest exporters to Russia and a major source of foreign trade and investment (approximately $1.5 billion per year), particularly in developing the Shtokman natural gas field. There are also significant joint projects in the fields of aeronautics, chemicals, nuclear energy, and automobile manufacturing. In advance of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Vladimir Putin entered into a collaborative relationship with Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, known as the Yekaterinburg Triangle, in an effort to dissuade Washington from the use of force. French political elites, apprehensive about George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, sought to leverage a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis to prevent a second Westernled invasion of a Muslim country, but to no avail. Russo-French relations cooled with the election of the decidedly pro-American Nicholas Sarkozy in 2007; in a diplomatic snub, Moscow noticeably delayed congratulations to the new leader, the only country to do so. In the run-up to his victory, Sarkozy had taken a particularly critical line on Putin’s growing authoritarianism and human rights violations in Chechnya.
   During the South Ossetian War, Sarkozy emerged as the principal peace broker between Moscow and Tbilisi, ultimately crafting the six-point plan for a cease-fire. Despite the tough rhetoric, Sarkozy’s successful personal diplomacy with Putin demonstrated that relations were on the mend. However, a lingering issue remains regarding Western Europe’s exposure to Moscow’s aggressive use of pipeline politics in its near abroad. French energy security, often threatened by cuts in the distribution of oil and gas traveling via Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet states, remains a major issue in bilateral and European Union–Russian relations. An increasing divide between the two countries on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is also a major sticking point in Franco-Russian relations.
   See also Kosovo.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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