Moreover, Mr. Macron's activism on Iran impresses the Russians, because it shows that France keeps some leverage in this field of manoeuvre - the Middle East - which they now tend to consider their preferred playing field. Finally, the meeting of the four ministers on September 9 obviously went well, without any particular breakthrough: a work programme has been agreed and a long and tedious work begins, for which it is likely that the Russians will "let the French come".
The next test will come quite quickly as it concerns the implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine, which could be the subject of a new summit in the so-called "Normandy" format (Germany, France, Ukraine, Russia). A difficult test in fact: it would be surprising if, on such an explosive subject as the status of the Donbass, the Russian and Ukrainian leaders were to agree on a real solution. Will we have to settle for half measures to maintain the Franco-Russian reset? Or, admit that issues other than Ukraine justify the deepening of the dialogue between Paris and Moscow, even if the dispute over Ukraine persists? How can we imagine that, on Syria and other crises in the Middle East, in which the Russians feel in a position of strength, discussions can go very far?
The Russian bear in the shadow of the Chinese dragon
In any case, seen once again from Moscow, the temptation is to see Mr. Macron's openings as a return to what was once a classic figure in East-West relations: a France useful for disuniting the Western camp and grabbing some advantages in the process, even if it means giving it a few minor rewards. President Macron will have to reassure our European partners on this point; and above all, he will have to work to break this "syndrome" in the minds of the Russian leaders. The stake is to explore on which possible specific issues, once castles in the air have been discarded, a balanced relationship can be established. On the latter point, can the obvious risk of China's ultimately using Russia as a satellite facilitate a change in the way Russian leaders view Europe?
This is a vast subject that cannot be addressed here but should be the subject of in-depth reflection. Here again, let us note two or three impressions drawn from a few conversations: fear and mistrust are strong on the Russian side towards China; the great mutual affection displayed by Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin is perceived as surprising by seasoned Russian observers. At the same time, the Russians have by no means the feeling that they have been "pushed" into Beijing; our interlocutors note that Mr Putin has turned to China as many other states have done: who can do without it today? Under its sovereignty policy, can’t Russia assume a role as a Eurasian power that stands out in a multipolar world?
It is true, however, that the same interlocutors feel a certain embarrassment when we list a few examples showing that cooperation has gone very far, obviously asymmetrically, between the two countries: hydrocarbon agreements of little benefit to Russia, arms sales in which Russians yield very advanced technology, military exercises with advanced intelligence sharing, the Arctic open to the Belt and Road Initiative , the choice of Huawei, to name a few. But the reply comes rather quickly: what can Europeans offer?
Copyright : LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP