France puts off strategic talks with Russia over Navalny case

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C, back) and Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly (R) during their talks with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L, back to camera) and Defence Minister General Sergey Shoigu (2-R, back to camera) during the 12th meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council in Moscow, Russia, 09 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/SERGEI ILNITSKY]

7France has postponed a visit to Moscow next week by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers seek answers from Russia to Germany’s findings that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned.

Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital, was airlifted to Germany after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight last month.

Germany says he was poisoned with a nerve agent. Russia has said it has seen no evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly had been due to go to Moscow as President Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce distrust between Russia and the West, hoping to enlist Russian help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.

“Given the current circumstances and after an exchange with Russian authorities, the Franco-Russian council on security cooperation has been postponed to a later date,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.

The Brief, powered by amfori – Macron’s Russia syndrome

Reaching out to Russia will make Europe less dependent on the US and turn it into a more assertive, autonomous foreign policy actor. At least that seems to be French President Emmanuel Macron’s thinking. But this stance is becoming increasingly problematic for Europe and has started to erode France’s own credibility.

France’s Armed Forces Ministry had on Thursday tweeted that the talks would go ahead as planned on 14 September, but over the weekend Le Drian demanded that Russia explain how a Kremlin opponent could be poisoned on its territory with a nerve agent.

“We would not be credible if we held the talks in the current climate,” a French diplomat said.

After a four-year freeze on such high-level diplomatic visits following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, Macron sent his defence and foreign ministers to Moscow a year ago.

He also appointed a special envoy to make progress on a so-called five-point structured dialogue that he proposed to President Vladimir Putin.

His efforts have upset other European Union member states who say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations.

Parly acknowledged in July that efforts to develop a new relationship with Russia and bring Moscow back into the fold of leading industrialised nations had yet to yield results.

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