Cambridge University student, Intern at Rethinking Russia
Rethinking Russia: What are some of the reasons you would give for the political tensions between Russia and France?
Ivan Blot: France, after a policy of independence led by general de Gaulle, president from 1958 to 1969, came back to the status of a protectorate of the United States of America. De Gaulle decided that France had to go out of the centralized military organization of NATO, led by the United States of America, but president Sarkozy decided to reintegrate the organization on 4th of April 2009. But president Sarkozy had a good relation with Russia. Since then, with the new socialist government, France follows more than ever the guidelines of the American foreign policy.
American foreign policy designed Russia as a threat. Mr. Brzezinski, president’s Carter adviser, said it was necessary to keep the leadership of America on the whole world. The threat is the continent Eurasia with Europe, Russia, China, India and the Middle East. It is necessary to split this geographical giant. The key country is Russia because it links the West with the East. It is necessary to survey China, to dominate the European Union and to weaken Russia. Mr. Brzezinski specifies that to weaken Russia the first thing to do is to create a conflict between Ukraine and Russia (in his book: The Great Chessboard, 1997). In the field of that program, France did not deliver the battleships Mistral in opposite to its engagement and voted sanctions against Russia pretexting the situation in Ukraine.
RR: What groups of states and non–state actors would you say benefit from a tense relation between France and Russia, cultivated both in the political elite and the general population?
IB: In general, European states do not benefit from the tense relations between France and Russia, except the United Kingdom, Poland and the three Baltic states whose elites are in strong connection with the American ones. The benefit is purely political. It allows to have better relations with Washington.
In the economic or cultural sphere, the tensions have very negative effects, even for these countries. According to the WIFO (Austria), 2,5 millions of jobs are lost in Europe because of the sanctions policy. 100 billion euros are lost. The Italian government spoke of lost of 5 billion euros. For France, because of the sanctions, 165 000 jobs are lost and the rate of the GDP growth will reduce by 0,5%.
The only country which trade with Russia increased since the introduction of sanctions against Russia, is America!
RR: What groups of state and non–state actors propagate this tension in the political sphere, in society as a whole? Would you say that these groups cooperate to propagate tension with Russia?
IB: The tension with Russia are propagated by the United States and its close English-speaking allies: Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand. These five states have a strong cooperation in intelligence (example: “Echelon” network). Other state actors cooperate but are more or less subordinated: Poland, Baltic countries, and with some restrain Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and in general member states of the European Union and NATO.
Non-state actors are mainly the media and NGOs with numerous pretexts like the export of democracy and the defense of human rights. Some think tanks and universities, subsidized by the Americans, are also used to give a bad image of Russia.
RR: Would you say the people in your state are generally weary of Russia. Why?
IB: According to the polls, 60% of the French have a negative view of Russia against 25% who have a positive view (2013). But only 43% approve of the sanctions against Russia and 31% are against them. Only 25% of the French have a positive view of the USA and 52% have a negative view. It is not very different from the views of Russia.
But we must say also that 72% of the French citizens think that President Putin is energetic and 56% think he is efficient to defend the interests of his country.
RR: Where do you think this weariness originates from?
IB: The media give systematically a bad image of Russia: backward country, authoritarian politics, poor economy, etc.
French people who make trips to Russia in general change their minds and come back with a good image of Russia. People who do business in Russia have a good image too and think Russia is the country of the future for their development.
RR: Do you think this weariness renders people’s choice of the media they read/watch selective?
IB: I do not think so. It is the opposite. People use well-known media and have the habit to use it. If the media is hostile to Russia, it will influence some of them. The situation is different with the Internet where the majority of commentaries are in favor of Russia. Younger people use more Internet and are more in favor of Russia.
RR: Do you think a negative opinion of Russia amongst the French people has an impact on your state’s decision making?
IB: In France the majority of the people are not interested in foreign affairs issues. The government does not ask people what they want. We are not in Switzerland! The decision-making depends on the ideology of the politicians: only a minority, Gaullists on the right, anti American citizens on the left, is in favor of better relations with Russia.
RR: How has the perception of Russia by the politicians in your state changed since 1991? What about popular opinion?
IB: The Gaullists and the Communists, who support Russia, are nowadays not so numerous as before. But younger generation of politicians, mainly liberals or socialists in the center, has no clear opinion on Russia but is very linked to the United States of America and will follow their guidelines (with exceptions of the National Front and the rightist part of the Republicans).
The popular opinion of the voters is much more in favor of Russia than before. The National Front rallies one third of the voters and 40% of young voters and he is in favor of Russia. The right basis of the Republicans is also in favor of Russia in contrast to the majority of the leaders of the party. On the left, a part of the extreme left is in favor of Russia. Socialists are in general in favor of the USA and hostile to Russia. The opinion in France is more and more conservative and more and more in favor of Russia at the same time. Older people stay often afraid of the former Soviet Union. Younger people have no prejudice against Russia except some academics.
RR: Do you think cooperation between your state and Russia is desirable? Is it viable?
IB: Politically, anybody who wants more independence for France is favorable to closer cooperation with Russia. The unbalance of strength between France and Germany in favor of the latter makes the dialogue more problematic than before and Russia can make a better equilibrium of strength in Europe. The “Brexit” gives more reasons for France to have intense connections with Russia because the former triangle between England, France and Germany does not exist any longer within the European Union. France stays alone with Germany (Italy is not sufficient to maintain the balance of power).
In economics, the business circles are in favor of getting rid of the anti-Russian sanctions and want to develop their part of market in Russia. Business circles are in favor of a free trade area from Portugal to Vladivostok. They distrust America because of the fines that the American courts give to French enterprises and noticeable banks. They think that there is more complementarity between Western Europe and Russia than between Western Europe and America. They are often afraid by the project of TTIP agreement prepared by the American administration and the European commission to have a free trade zone between both sides of the Atlantic.
This cooperation between France and Russia would be viable because they have evidently much interest in common: politically, economically and also in the field of security and anti-terrorism.
RR: What forms should this cooperation take?
IB: Politically, it is necessary to reset the relations between France and Russia. It would be useful for France to leave NATO and make European politicians abandon NATO treaty since the Warsaw treaty was abandoned.
Economically, it would be important to have a free trade agreement between the European Union and Russia, and even the Eurasiatic Union. It could be negotiated by the European Union, but before, it is necessary to reform this Union.
Besides, we can have bilateral agreements with Russia for active cooperation as it was done with Britain, for instance, with the aircraft Concorde.
RR: Would you see any impediments to cooperation? Which ones?
IB: I do not see impediments except on the political level as our state is now “de facto” under the authority of the United States of America. Perhaps, big choices have to be taken by the people (referendums) because a negative lobbying is impossible with a direct democratic process. Another impediment is the behavior of the present political class whose members are in majority linked to American interests. It is necessary to choose younger politicians more patriotic than the present generation. In France, it would be a good thing to integrate in the ruling class politicians of the National Front, who are younger, but are excluded from normal political life in spite of the fact they represent one third of the voters. Now, this party is as democratic as others.
RR: What groups of state and non-state actors would you say benefit from the cooperation of France and Russia?
IB: All European states would benefit from the cooperation with Russia because they need a new situation with the balance of power between the West and the East. This balance would give more freedom of to all these states in Europe. Especially in military sphere and anti-terrorist protection these states could have a more independent policy outside than inside the obsolete NATO.
Economically, enterprises need freedom in a big Eurasian space and it cannot be done without a strong cooperation with Russia. Culturally, it would be a good thing to develop the cultural and spiritual exchanges between France and Russia. France has to resolve a big moral crisis: the number of crimes increased from 1,5 million in 1968 to 4,5 million today. Exchange of experience with other countries like Russia can be profitable.
RR: Do they benefit from cooperation in different spheres or only in particular ones? Which ones?
IB: The cooperation could begin in such sphere as war on terror, fight against international criminality, the whole sector of economy, energy, cultural exchanges notably for students, the spiritual development by better relations between the churches. This list is not limited