Macron Offers Putin Improved Ties, Rebukes Kremlin ‘Propaganda’

  • French, Russian leaders discuss Syria in Versailles splendor
  • Putin backed Macron’s opponents during presidential election

Macron, Putin Find Little Common Ground in Meeting

French President Emmanuel Macron called for improved ties with Russia at his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, even as he rebuked Kremlin-run media for engaging in “propaganda” during the election brought him to power.

Macron, standing alongside Putin at the Versailles palace near Paris, also staked out tough positions on sanctions and the civil war in Syria. The French leader said he’d support new sanctions against Russia if there’s an escalation in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where he has condemned Russia’s role as an “invasion.”

Fighting terrorism is the main priority for both nations, Macron said at a joint news conference on Monday, though he warned that Russian-led efforts to broker a cease-fire in Syria wouldn’t succeed without a political process.

“I want us to win the fight against terrorists in Syria and build together lasting political stability,” Macron said. “We have laid the ground for that work together today. I believe we’ve had an extremely frank and direct exchange. We have told each other everything.”

Putin welcomed the overtures while avoiding any public conflict with his French host, even over Macron’s accusation that Russian media spread lies during the campaign, which came in response to a Russian reporter’s question. Putin denied any effort to meddle in the vote. Macron said he didn’t raise the issue during the meeting as they’d already discussed it by phone and he wanted to move on.

Russia’s official RIA-Novosti news agency quoted presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the Kremlin doesn’t agree with Macron’s characterization of the state media.

Macron’s Stage

The meeting in the gilded halls of Versailles was a chance for Macron, 39, to further establish himself on the international scene after his debut last week at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gathering in Brussels and the Group of Seven summit in Sicily. For Putin, the invitation by France’s youngest-ever elected leader offered an opportunity to mend strained ties with the West.

Still, the two leaders remain deeply at odds on key issues. France has demanded the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Kremlin ally, and accused his regime of staging a chemical attack in April that provoked a U.S. military response. Under Macron’s Socialist predecessor, Francois Hollande, France solidly backed Germany in imposing European sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in Ukraine.

Putin called for the removal of the punitive measures, saying they won’t help to bring peace to Russia’s former Soviet neighbor.

Macron met Putin amid the gold and marble of Versailles and showed him around an exhibition commemorating Russian czar Peter the Great, who visited France in 1717.

The invitation was intended to establish ties after months of strained relations during the French campaign. Putin openly supported two of Macron’s rivals, Republican Francois Fillon and then Marine Le Pen, and Macron’s team accused the Russian government of involvement in a series of cyber attacks on their systems.

“What’s important is that during our talks today we sensed that we look at many things in the same way, although there are some differences,” Putin said. “What we have in common gives us the reason to believe that we can not only intensify but significantly improve our cooperation.”

— With assistance by Gregory Viscusi, and Henry Meyer

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