The time is right for the EU and Russia to mend ties, but sanctions should stay in place for now, France has said.
“The time has come, the time is right, to work towards reducing the distrust between Russia and Europe, who ought to be partners on a strategic and economic level,” French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Moscow on Monday (9 September).
“We have acknowledged significant progress, significant changes over the past months,” he added.
He referred to a recent Ukraine-Russia prisoner exchange deal as “a practical result that France had encouraged”.
“It’s not yet the time to lift sanctions … [but] we are seeing a new state of mind compared to that of the last few years, which we are pleased about,” he also said.
Le Drian spoke after meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The French defence minister and senior officials also travelled to Moscow to meet their opposite numbers.
For his part, Lavrov spoke of joint Franco-Russian “efforts for ensuring a harmonious transition of the world order that took shape after the Cold War ended”.
Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu also called for “fresh impetus to our relations in the strategic [military] area”.
The EU imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in 2014.
The prisoner exchange aside, it was unclear on Monday which “significant progress” Le Drian was referring to.
Russia continues to occupy Crimea and east Ukraine, with international monitors recording the usual exchanges of artillery and small arms fire on the contact line in east Ukraine in recent days.
Russian air strikes in Syria and its backing of a Libyan warlord called Khalifa Haftar also threaten new waves of mass emigration to Europe.
But for his part, French president Emmanuel Macron invited Russian president Vladimir Putin to his summer residence in France in August to try to mend fences.
Macron also suggested Russia should be welcomed back into the G7 club of wealthy nations.
The French turn on Russia comes after Macron started out on a hawkish note, when he publicly reprimanded Putin for meddling in French elections back in 2017.
Le Drian’s visit to Moscow on Monday also represented an easing of Europe’s diplomatic isolation of Russia.
The so-called “two-plus-two” meetings of Russian and French foreign defence ministers began prior to the Ukraine conflict, but were later put on ice.
“We are delighted that president of Russia Vladimir Putin and president of France Emmanuel Macron decided to revive this format,” Lavrov said on Monday.
France and Germany also planned to represent the EU at a new peace summit with Russia and Ukraine to be held in Paris “within the next few days,” Le Drian said.