Paris is not taken: why Putin refused to go to France

At a convenient time

On Tuesday afternoon, 11 October, the Kremlin announced that next week’s visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris postponed indefinitely. As stated by the press Secretary of the President Dmitry Peskov, the program of the visit “was given to scheduled activities”, and the decision was made to cancel the trip.

That Putin at the invitation of the French colleague Francois Hollande on October 19 will go on a working visit in Paris, became known in mid-September. According to the foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov, the presidents were planning to discuss the whole range of issues: bilateral relations and cooperation on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. However, over the past month the situation in Syria has escalated, resulting in a further cooling of relations between Russia and the West. In a televised interview on 9 October, Hollande admitted that they did doubt the benefits of meeting with Putin in these conditions. However, Peskov did not specify the reasons for the cancellation of the event, proposing to refer the matter to the French side. The French Embassy in Russia refused to comment on the cancellation of the visit, citing the lack of official statements from the Elysee Palace. However, formally, the visit is not cancelled, but postponed the trip could take place in any other convenient for the host part of the time, Peskov stressed.

A source close to the Russian foreign Ministry, in conversation with has underlined that the French side itself invited the Russian President, the program of the visit has been agreed, but at the last moment “the French began to narrow”. In particular, during the visit the presidents of Russia and France had solemnly open in Paris Russian spiritual and cultural center. But the French leader refused to participate in the event. The Russian side was proposed to be limited to the negotiations of the heads of state. “This to us is impossible,” said the source , noting that after that the Kremlin has decided to abandon the trip.

The Russian government acquired a plot of land on the banks of the Seine river (on which was located the building of the meteorological service) in February 2010, six months later, a competition was announced for the project of building a cultural center. After much coordination of the project with the Paris city hall construction began in the spring of 2014.

At the end of 2014, wrote that the total cost for construction of the center could reach €75 million — including the cost of land, the demolition of buildings and clearing of the site. In March 2016, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko claimed that the project and construction cost the Russian Treasury about €90 million center includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral, administrative buildings of the diocese of Korsun (combining Orthodox parishes in Spain, Portugal, France and Switzerland), and the initial Russian-French school for 150 people and exhibition centre.

Earlier, Reuters, citing sources in France reported that on the morning of Tuesday the Kremlin and the Elysee Palace held a consultation, during which Moscow had proposed to exclude from the discussion between Putin and Hollande any other subject, except the Syrian agenda, with which, according to the Agency, agreed the Russian side.

In turn, the source close to the Ministry of foreign Affairs , insists that this information is not true, because during the negotiations, “any of the presidents can raise any issue”. As explained by the Professor Pavel Lyadov, former head of the Department of state Protocol of the foreign Ministry, the leaders during the bilateral negotiations are truly free to choose the topics and give them something no one else can. Changes in the program made visits very often including a lot later than a week before it starts. “However, these changes are made with the consent of both parties. If one of them without a good motivation to unilaterally change the program, the other party may perceive in the transition from the field of Protocol to politics and start taking their own steps,” — said Liadov.

The head of the Center for French studies at the RAS Institute of Europe Yury Rubinsky considers that the postponement of Putin’s visit — is the right decision: “I Think both sides were ready for it. The main thing for the Russian President was opening a spiritual-cultural center. But to enter him in an unfavorable political context had no meaning.”

The Syrian track

As stressed by the first Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on international Affairs Vladimir dzhabarov, the postponement of the visit can be directly linked to the disagreements between Moscow and Paris on the Syrian issue. “They were offended by the fact that Russia refused to vote for the French version of the resolution on Syria: this is such a painful reaction from the French people,” — said dzhabarov (quoted by TASS). In late September Paris has been working on the creation of a draft UN resolution in connection with the massive bombings of Aleppo and increased the already acute humanitarian crisis. Last week, French foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met in Moscow with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov, but the next day Russian diplomats sharply criticized the French project, saying that it actually provokes Moscow for the use of the veto.

According to Reuters, the draft resolution suggested the involvement of the UN for control over execution of the armistice in Syria, and also “taking further measures” to any involved party if its breach of the truce. In fact, it was about creating accountability mechanism under the auspices of the UN. October 8, members of the security Council initially rejected the Russian draft resolution on return to the agreements between Moscow and Washington, then the Russian delegation blocked the French draft. On Monday, Paris responded with a request to the international court to investigate possible war crimes in Syria.

Finding a way out of the Syrian impasse complicates the political situation in the USA, France and Germany, associated with running or upcoming elections, says Rubinsky from the wounds: “In these circumstances, leaders of States are able to make far-reaching political decisions, being forced to make tough statements and actions”. French public opinion polls, says Rubinsky, show that in the presidential election in 2017, françois Hollande is likely to change the other person “and it is known to both parties”. In such a situation, to find compromise solutions to extremely difficult, but to over-dramatize it, too, should not, says the expert.

Senator dzhabarov also believes that “a new stage in the deterioration of relations” with France can not be called. Francois Hollande, speaking at the Council of Europe, said Paris is ready for “hard and honest” dialogue with Moscow on the Syrian issue. According to him, he is ready to meet with Putin at any time, although he criticized the imposition of Russian veto the French resolution in the UN security Council on Saturday.

The evening of 19 October, the Russian and French presidents can meet in Berlin at a meeting of leaders “channel four” (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine). To hold a similar event was proposed by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, this known according to the Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov. On Tuesday night, said Die Welt, the official confirmation of the meeting from Berlin has not yet arrived, whereas the Ukrainian authorities stated that the meeting invitation has not yet been received. The Kremlin stressed that the date and place of the meeting in the “Normandy format” call can not yet, as it must be “ripe conditions”, and in preparation there are “problem areas”.

The failed visits of Vladimir Putin

May 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not go to the summit of “Big eight” in the U.S., instead sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. At that moment, immediately after the inauguration of the head of state, Putin held consultations on the composition of the government of Russia. Russian Sherpa in the “group of eight” Arkady Dvorkovich emphasized that the replacement of Putin Medvedev in the Kremlin was not considered an important event.

This was the second occasion in Russian history when the President has cancelled his participation in major summit: the first occurred in October 2002 when after the terrorist attack on Dubrovka, President Putin decided to postpone his visit to Mexico, cancelled his participation in the APEC summit.

October 2012. Vladimir Putin canceled a visit to Turkey, Pakistan, India, and did not participate in the CIS summit held in Ashgabat. According to the press-Secretary of President Dmitry Peskov, the cancellation of the visits were linked to the need to finalize the agenda.

With the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict cancel appointments began to occur more often. Lyadov from MGIMO explains that the main criterion for the preparation of the visits, given the current situation, in order not to harm the interests of the country.

March 2014. Official Paris announced the intention to cancel or reschedule the visit of Vladimir Putin to France: in April, the President was to visit the military cemetery Kursi, which were buried who fought in the First world war the Russian soldiers. However, in late March, the French foreign Minister said: “We will negotiate with Russia to see how relevant this visit at this moment and if there is a better time”. Putin’s visit to France took place later in the same year.

September 2014. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused to hold a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the Agency Kyodo, to postpone the summit to next year, Tokyo forced Washington.

March 2015. Vladimir Putin has canceled a meeting with the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan, which was held in Astana, and has not appeared in public since 5 to March 16. All this time, the press service of the Kremlin published on the website the records of its closed meetings. Reuters sources said that the President was sick, but the press Secretary of the President Dmitry Peskov insisted that the head of state is healthy.

2015. Was cancelled Putin’s visit to the Philippines. The head of state was to participate in the APEC summit, but the event went Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Dmitry Peskov explained the cancellation of the visit by the fact that Medvedev was previously planned in the region for more visits and therefore it was decided to optimize the graphics of the highest leadership of the country, “the President and the Prime Minister with a difference in one or two days this way do not fly”.