Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared “the world needs Russia” as he met with the country’s leader Vladimir Putin in a controversial visit to Moscow Thursday.
«I’m happy to be here in Moscow, and you know my conviction that the world needs Russia,» Sarkozytold reporters ahead of his hour-and-forty-five-minute-long closed door meeting with Putin at the Russian leader’s residence just outside the capital.
«Russia and Europe should work together… To discuss, listen and respect, this is the destiny of Franceand Russia.”
The meeting between the two men, the third since Sarkozy left the Elysée Palace in 2012, comes at a time of fraught relations between the Kremlin and current French President François Hollande over Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and recent military intervention in Syria.
Hollande has been one of the most outspoken opponents of working with Putin’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in finding a solution to the Syria conflict.
In a speech before students of the MGIMO, Moscow’s prestigious Institute of International Relations, Sarkozy called on the West to end Russia’s isolation and declared the country an «indispensable» partner in resolving the conflict in Syria.
“We must merge the two coalitions into one,» Sarkozy said, referring to the rival US- and Russia-led military campaigns.
«Without Russia, one cannot meet the great challenges of this world,» he said, adding that the global role of Putin is «more positive than negative, despite our differences».
A smiling Putin praised Sarkozy for his “impressive” speech.
«I am so happy to see you, Nicolas,» Putin said warmly.
Paris blasts Sarkozy’s ‘parallel diplomacy’
The trip has not gone down well with Paris, however.
French junior minister for higher education and research Thierry Mandon said Sarkozy had no business short-circuiting French foreign policy.
“Diplomacy is complicated, he is like a dog in a bowling alley in this affair,” he said on France 2 television.
The vice president of the French parliament’s France-Russia friendship group, Green Party member François Michel-Lambert, said Sarkozy’s “parallel diplomacy” was damaging for the country.
“It is amazing that the former head of state does not have a sense of statesmanship,” he said.
However, others have been less critical, if still cautious over the merits of Sarkozy’s trip.
“Everyone has the right to talk,” Bruno Le Roux, leader of Hollande’s Socialist Party in parliament, told AFP as Sarkozy arrived in Russia on Wednesday. “There is a usefulness in maintaining relationships with all countries.”
«At the same time, in these sorts of moments, the position of France, the position which is that of Europe, must be kept in mind,” he added.