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Europe

Syria, trade top Hollande's Moscow agenda

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-02-28

While the world waits to see if French President François Hollande’s visit to Russia can engender a rapprochement on his and Vladimir Putin's approach to the Syrian conflict, trade and economic investment are also on Hollande's agenda.

Beyond the delicate issue of Syria, French President François Hollande’s visit to Moscow is a key opportunity to boost relations with his counterpart in Moscow and find much-needed sources of investment in the French economy.

It is Hollande’s first visit to Russia since he was elected President in May 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin came to Paris in June that year (main photo), a visit that exposed frosty relations between the two leaders.

The world’s media will be watching closely to see if Hollande and Putin can deliver a closer vision on the issue of Syria - whose leader Bashar al Assad is a key ally to Moscow while France has been decisively supportive of the rebel effort to oust him.

But tellingly, it is not only French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joining Hollande for the visit - the entourage also includes Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg as well as Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti.

Reciprocal investment

Accompanied by his partner Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande will also be looking to find the same personal chemistry that Putin shared with his predecessor and vanquished rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Why Russia is an important market for France

Talks between the two heads of state on Thursday followed meetings between Hollande and French business leaders operating in Russia, among them Airbus, Arianespace, Astrium, LVMH, Sanofi, SNCF, Thales and Total, all of whom are looking for new contracts.

“This has been a major opportunity for the French president to review French investments in Russia, which for the moment aren’t huge,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Gauthier Rybinski, reporting from Moscow.

And with French economic growth stagnating, Hollande is keen for the visit to boost reciprocal Russian investment in France, Rybinski added.

Two points of view on Syria

Hollande will also be seeking to reconcile France's vision of a post-Assad Syria with Moscow's insistence that only Syrians can decide their destiny.

Some 70,000 people have died in Syria since the beginning of the revolt against the Assad regime in early 2011, according to the United Nations.

In a radio interview early Thursday, Hollande said he intended to discuss political transition in Syria with Putin and voiced cautious optimism that the leaders could bring their opposing positions closer.

"We will discuss this question and I hope [Mr.] Putin and I will manage to have a dialogue about the transfer of power," Hollande told Echo of Moscow radio station in comments translated into Russian.

The taboo topic of human rights

On a mission to find common ground with Russia, Hollande said that he would bring up rights issues, without being specific, adding that he "would not like to use any provocative approach."

“The [French] president is very attentive to the issue of human rights,” a presidential aide told left-leaning French daily Libération on Thursday. “But he will only bring them up when necessary."

Without hiding the fact that the visit would place a strong focus on economic ties between the two countries, the aide added: “French-Russian relations do not hinge simply on human rights issues. That would be too simplistic and unrealistic.”

Human Rights Watch had urged the French leader in the run-up to the visit to press Putin on the rights situation in after the "worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory."

Hollande also downplayed the fallout from Putin's decision to grant citizenship to French star Gerard Depardieu, in a whirl of publicity after the actor rowed with the French authorities over high tax demands.

"I’m sure the Russian president made a choice that does not damage our interests," he said.

Date created : 2013-02-28

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