by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
One week before the G-7 Biarritz summit took place August 23-25th, a significant bilateral meeting took place between French President Macron and Russian President Putin in the French city Fort Brégançon. This meeting marked an important geostrategic turn taken by French President Emmanuel Macron in respect to Russia; it was intended to give a signal to the EU and the rest of the world that a new geostrategic orientation in respect to Russia should be chosen. The move by Macron should be seen in the context of the spectacular break of the INF treaty that was announced by US President Trump, August 2nd, shortly after followed by Putin. With the break of the treaty a dangerous precedent is set for Europe which could lead to a dangerous rearmament course in Europe. While Macron two years ago was still quite critical concerning Russia’s hegemonic course, he is now calling for “integrating Russia into a new European security architecture from Lisbon to Vladivostok”- a theme which follows the line that was developed in the recently published book “Russisches Roulette: Vom Kalten Krieg zum Kalten Frieden” (Russian Roulette- from Cold Peace to Cold war) by former chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Professor Dr. Horst Teltschik. This concept “security from Lisbon to Vladivostok” had been the original idea of the famous Paris Charta conference in 1990, as Teltschik outlined in the book, a concept to which Europe must today urgently return.
In a common press conference with Russian President Putin, Macron characterized Russia as a “European power” which “must get its place in a new security architecture.” He spoke about the need to create a Europe from Vladivostok to Lisbon and reminded the heritage of Catherine the Great as representing Russia’s European orientation as well as fully backing the idea that Russia had become member of the European Council. “We must bring Russia to Europe, since it is a European power given its history and geography,” the President stated.
A truly “sovereign Europe” could only emerge, if “Russia is part of a common Security strategy,” he stated. A first step in this direction would be a solution for the Ukraine conflict, which is also conditional to get Russia back into the G8. Macron added that the crisis of Iran is an important topic of discussion underlining that it was necessary to find ways of deescalating the crisis and that he is in constant contact with President Trump and President Rohani.
Putin in turn, aside praising the fact that trade between Russia and France has been increasing recently, emphasized that both presidents intended to bilaterally discuss the international agenda. He reiterated that it was not Russia that withdrew unilaterally from the ABM and INF treaties. “Our offers are on the table concerning START and also the nuclear test ban treaty.” He made clear that if the US goes ahead with its plans and stations new cruise missiles – Russia will also go ahead. Both presidents agreed that it was necessary to organize a new summit in the Normandy format, in order to discuss about the Ukraine (this includes Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France). But both also underlined that such a summit only made sense if certain concrete results will be reached. Putin specified that this implied “implementing the Steinmeier formula on the special status of Donbas.”
Putin during the question and answer period stressed the importance of French /Russian relations, given that both countries fought on the same side during World War II and that both are members of the UN Security Council. “Our soldiers fought together, Russia has always had relation with Europe and “Europe must reconsider its hegemony as sovereign.”
He also underlined that aside G8- there are also other international institutions like the G-20, BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which play a big role and which Russia is part of. “There are big powers like China and India and others in the G20 which altogether represent 90% of the global economy,” he said.
G-7 summit in Biarritz
With the Franco / Russian summit taking place one week before the G7 leaders met, the stage was set by President Macron for hosting a G-7 summit that unlike previous summits broke with the usual routine in midst of mounting political disagreements. There was no final communique but instead in the center of the agenda there were the burning Iran issue and the question of the JCPOA nuclear agreement which Europe wants to maintain while the US has created a major conflict for Iran. The real surprise card which Macron played at the G-7 meeting was that he had invited Iranian foreign minister to visit Biarritz on Sunday- not the summit, but in order to meet French Foreign Minister Jean- Yves Le Drian. The result is that President Trump toned down his usual rhetoric. He as well as Iranian President Rohani have signaled interest to meet, if certain conditions are fulfilled.
In an interview which Iran Foreign Minister Dschawad Zarif gave to the German “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” on the eve of his departure to Biarritz, he explained that the JCPOA nuclear agreement was based on two pillars: one obliges Iran to use its nuclear program uniquely for peaceful purposes; the other obliges the international community and parties to make sure that economic relations with Iran become normalized with the rest of the world.” As soon as the Europeans begin to implement their obligations, he said, “We will withdraw from our countermeasures.” According to Zarif this could be done in a “matter of hours.” Concretely this would imply for Iran that they could sell 2,5 Mio barrel of oil as was the case before the nuclear agreement got single- handedly cancelled by the US. Zarif called upon Europe to be realistic, emphasizing that the “US can’t impose its will on Europe. Europe must react.” He referred to 11 points of the JCPOA agreement that was concluded with Europe which provides for European companies in Iran. “We want to be able to sell our oil in return for money.” He mentioned that Iran had suffered hundreds of billions of losses given the catastrophic state of the economy, with the Iranian currency losing 75 % of its value. “Europe,” he complained, “limits itself to declarations that it wants to maintain the agreement while in the meantime people in Iran lose their jobs and income.” Hence he made clear that the problem is “between Iran and Europe.” Europe is however independent from the US. He didn’t exclude negotiations with the White House, but they should in turn stop to impede others to fulfill their commitments.
Zarif also underlined that “since weeks Iran worked with Macron, who tries to mediate. We had good meetings. We don’t want war- others push trump for this,” he said. Essentially he reiterated that it’s a question of “war and peace” and that Iran does not want to be drawn into war. Even if many observers are skeptical – some like ZDF Correspondent Thevessen who after the G7 meeting in Biarritz and the press conference of Trump and Macron went as far as commenting that the US had managed to have Europe “to come in line with them” concerning Iran – this may not be the last word.
Vision for Sovereign Europe
It is worthwhile to observe the geostrategic offensive which Macron is conducting, who is filling a power vacuum created by Germany, Italy – that is still forming a new government- and GB, which is on its way out from the EU. In an address given to the yearly gathering of the French Ambassadors worldwide in Paris Tuesday 27th, the French President outlined what he called his “vision” for “a Sovereign Europe”. He spoke of a strategy of “audacity” and harshly attacked those who want to push Russia away from Europe. The vocation of Russia is to be allied with China, Macron stated. He stressed that we live at the “End of Western Hegemony” and that it is our task to create a “European civilization”, based on the European humanist values of the past. “We must be audacious and take risks” instead of being immobile. “We need to build an arc of trust, confidence and security with Russia, as well as have a strategy in respect to the new emerging powers such as China, India and Africa.”