Macron and Russian counterpart Putin held their first meeting since the French leader came to office, with differences on Ukraine and Syria in full view.
Macron welcomed Putin to the splendour of the Versailles palace outside Paris with a perfunctory handshake — after the 39-year-old made a point of outlasting US President Donald Trump when they clasped hands at the NATO summit last week.
Putin’s visit is the latest test of Macron’s diplomatic mettle after the G7 talks in Sicily last week and the NATO summit in Brussels where he turned the tables on Trump by refusing to release the American leader’s hand for several
He regretted that none of the G7 states are party to Syria peace talks under way in the Kazakh capital Astana initiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Separate UN-backed negotiations have become bogged down in Geneva.
Russia is a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whereas, as Putin adviser Yuri Ushakov said before the visit, France “is among the countries with a very severe stance towards (Assad’s) regime”.
Coming so soon after an election in which the Kremlin was widely seen asbacking Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen — with Putin hosting her during a surprise visit to Moscow — the encounter in Versailles will have an added personal edge.
Moscow has also been blamed for a raft of cyberattacks on Macron’s election campaign, with aides accusing the Kremlin of mounting a “smear campaign” against him.
Putin was quick to congratulate Macron on his election, urging him to “overcome mutual distrust” and “join forces to ensure international stability and security”.
The visit comes seven months after Putin cancelled a trip to Paris for the opening of a Russian cathedral complex near the Eiffel Tower in a spat over Syria with Hollande, who had said Russia’s bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.
In Versailles, Macron and Putin will inaugurate an exhibition marking 300 years of Franco-Russian ties since the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.
After the talks and a joint news conference, Putin will visit the Paris Orthodox cathedral complex on his own.
Source: The Local
29 May 2017