What’s behind the French delegation visit to Crimea?

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August 1, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ

Translated by J. Arnoldski

The visit by a 10-person delegation from the National Assembly and Senate of France to Crimea concluded today. A farewell press conference was held with the delegation members. The head of the delegation, Thierry Mariani, issued a loud statement: the international community should recognize Crimea as part of Russia. 

The Russian press has busied itself with discussing an instance from today’s press conference, namely, when a Ukrainian journalist posed a “repulsive” question to the delegation’s head, Thierry Mariani [1]. But of much more interest to us is the visit’s hidden motivation.

As informed media reports have pointed out, 8 of the 10 members of the delegation that arrived in Crimea represent the Republican Party headed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, as we recall, has recently made a number of positive statements about Russia. He recently met with President Vladimir Putin and called upon Russia to lift the counter-sanctions imposed on French agricultural products. In doing so, Sarkozy prepared the ground for the Crimean visit by his party fellows. What’s more, for several of them such as Mariani, this is not their first visit to Crimea since its reunification with Russia.

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Russian Crimea is becoming a factor in the internal politics of Western countries, and not only in Europe. We’ve already written about the series of resolutions passed in Northern Italy’s regional councils and in the Parliament of Cyprus supporting the Russian status of Crimea. Literally yesterday, US presidential candidate Donald Trump also called Crimea’s reunification with Russia a realization of the will of Crimeans. Of course, the Crimean issue is not the most important ant not even a secondary issue in the electoral campaign in the US, but it is nonetheless becoming all the more visible as it affects the main nerve of Western foreign policy: relations with Russia.

In Europe and the West as a whole, the tone is set by those who cling to geopolitical archaism positing the “Ukrainian status” of Crimea. French Foreign Minister and socialist Laurent Fabius even said that he was “shocked” by the very idea of a French delegation being sent to Crimea. But it is hardly likely that Mr. Fabius actually experienced real shock over this visit. After all, the French political field’s competitors are preparing for presidential elections in the country set to be held in 2017. Although the thematic platforms of candidates and parties are still being worked out, the Crimean question is already been written in. To radically varying degrees, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen are in favor of lifting the sanctions imposed against Russia caused by the issue of Crimea. Francois Hollande, meanwhile, clings to the opposite position. 

French parliamentarians have been moved by the raw balance of affairs and concern over the interests of France and French manufactures who are suffering from the anti-Russian sanctions and Russia’s responsive sanctions. But blaming them would only be the proper case if they didn’t actually care. For example, the court in the EU which has suffered the greatest extent from ceasing to export its products to Russia is Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel remains one of the main supporters of the EU’s anti-Russian policies. She can be blamed much more than French deputies. This anti-Russian position, however, is nowhere near as radical as can be found in the countries of Eastern Europe but, then again, the political and economic weight of Germany is incomparable to the value of the countries of “new Europe.” Opposition to Angela Merkel’s policies is very strong among German business circles. But it is still difficult to imagine any kind of visit by Bundestag deputies to Russian Crimea. But for this there is quite an obvious explanation which we won’t touch on for now. 

The upcoming presidential elections in France, the architect of “united Europe” alongside Germany, and the electoral campaigns in swing in a number of other European countries are, if I may say so, lending the Crimean issue an official status in the domestic politics of these countries. Voters will associate recognizing Crimea as part of Russia with the abolition of the onerous sanctions and improving relations with Russia. The European boat of anti-Russian sanctions is rocking against waves all the harsher. And a storm is coming in the form of a series of elections (presidential and parliamentary) in several countries at once. French politicians are too pragmatic and adverse to risk to single-handedly challenge the complicated system of American control over Europe. Therefore, the French parliamentary delegation’s visit to Crimea is not only a French, but a European preparation of public opinion for reconsidering the EU’s positions not only on Crimea, but Russia as a whole. “Recognize Russian Crime and lift sanctions” is a slogan that will be written on electoral banners by several political forces in Europe at once.

[1] Life News reports that during the press conference, a Ukrainian journalist asked Mariani: “How much did they pay you French for the trip to Crimea?”  Mariani replied that he would not accept such a question but acknowledged that the fact that such a “repulsive” question could be posed by a journalist in Russia “is evidence that Russia is a free country.” Mariani told the journalist that he would hardly get away with asking such questions in his own country. 

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