Russian President Dmitri Medvedev arrived in Paris on Monday for a three-day visit and to launch a new strategic partnership with France. The new Franco-Russian embrace is marked by major arms sales, a space deal, lucrative energy contracts and greater market access—all under the banner of a blossoming personal relationship between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Medvedev. But the blossoming Franco-Russian friendship appears poised to come at the expense of European security.
We’ve been to this show before. The historical connection between France and Russia dates back before World War I. France and Russia consummated an alliance in 1894. This was a military pact, based on mutual protection guarantees, and aimed against the rising Germany. It did not survive World War I, nor did the 1935 Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance. This time, Paris is playing catch-up with Germany for a privileged relationship with Moscow.
Seemingly oblivious to NATO members’ objections and Russia’s continued violation of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement in George (brokered by President Sarkozy), Paris is moving ahead with the sale of four Mistral-class assault ships to Russia. The Mistral is one of the most advanced helicopter carriers in the world and would be a formidable power projection tool for Russia. Building two Mistrals under the license in Russia will also boost the Russian industrial capabilities. This dynamic should concern the U.S. as well as Europe.
In addition to arms sales, the two leaders presided over the signing of an important accord between Gaz de France Suez and Gazprom. GDF will acquire a nine percent stake in the Nord Stream gas pipeline, and in exchange, Gazprom will provide France with up to an additional 1.5 billion meters of gas annually from 2015. This follows a close pattern in Russia’s diplomatic playbook: Moscow grants selective access to Russian energy resources as a reward for political cooperation—and often times lobbying on behalf of the Kremlin.
The two countries are also venturing into space: France will spend about $1 billion to buy 14 Soyuz carrier rockets from Russia. The new deal marks another step in cooperation between Russia and France in the space sector after Arianespace signed a contact with Russia’s space agency in 2008 for the launch of 10 Russian Soyuz-ST rockets.
There may be an internal Russian political angle to the visit as well. Medvedev may be jealous of his mentor and ex-boss Russian Premier Vladimir Putin in pursuing a close relationship with Sarkozy. Putin has strong ties with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and was close to the German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac when the two were in office. Until now, personal relationships and lucrative business deals were reserved to Putin. The trajectory of Medvedev’s and Sarkozy’s friendship appears to be a new dynamic which signals Medvedev’s “coming of age.”
One can only hope that Sarkozy will use his leverage to counter dismemberment of Georgia and promote the rule of law. Paris would also be wise to remember that its gains from a Franco-Russian business ties should not come at the expense of European security. Unfortunately, judging from Paris’s business-better-than-usual approach, the future for Russia’s expand clout in Europe never looked better.
C0-authored by Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy and Owen B. Graham, Research Assistant at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at The Heritage Foundation.