The Putin-Sarkozy Meeting

October 10, 2007 Topic: Security Tags: DiplomacyHeads Of State

The Putin-Sarkozy Meeting

Many predicted that Nicolas Sarkozy would use his visit to Moscow to put pressure on Vladimir Putin. Instead, we see the French president seeking a different diplomatic role for Paris.

So much for the predictions that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was going to read the riot act to Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow.

Several weeks ago I set down my reasons for believing that France may be trying to insert itself as the "indispensable mediator" between Russia and the United States, reaching out to Russia in the name of a larger European security project but also emphasizing to Washington that France remains a key component of the Euro-Atlantic community.

So after the first day of meetings, what do we have? We have Sarkozy telling reporters that, on Iran, "Our positions moved much closer … I really felt a convergence." We have reports that on the question of Kosovo-where I have been predicting for the last several months that Sarkozy and Putin might work to develop a compromise position that would satisfy both European and Russian concerns-that the two discussed whether a solution could be found that would avoid "humiliation" for the Serbs; Sarkozy said, "We saw a path which could eventually allow us to bring our views closer."

Sarkozy did bring up human rights issues but also appears to have endorsed what has been the mainstream German position towards Russia-that while there are a number of setbacks, Russia is still moving in a positive direction and "this evolution should be encouraged." That is a far cry from endorsing a growing U.S. belief that Russia is moving in a wrong direction. Sarkozy's call for greater economic cooperation between Russia and France, particularly in sensitive areas such as nuclear energy and the aerospace industry, is also less likely to be well received in Washington, where, just as with Angela Merkel several years ago, there was a hope that a new, conservative European leader would be more prepared to increase pressure on the Kremlin. [In a separate note, perhaps building on the inclusion of Total into the Shtokman gas project, Sarkozy also told reporters, "I have told President Putin of the readiness of French investors to enter the capital of big Russian companies, for example Gazprom."]

"France and Russia can make a decisive contribution to strengthening world security," the French president declared. Seems like this is much more a version of Richard Haass' vision of integration-of bringing major powers together in a cooperative venture-than John McCain's view of a "League of Democracies" countering the less-than-democratic powers of the world. But those who thought Sarkozy would carry America's water to Moscow had fair warning. This is the man, who, after all, said: This does not mean that I seek to wipe the table clean: On many points, Jacques Chirac's record in the area [foreign policy] was exemplary."

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.