President of France Emmanuel Macron (retranslated): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here.
First of all, I would like to thank President Putin for accepting the invitation which I extended to him during our telephone conversation some time after I took office. I invited him to come to this symbolic place, where today we celebrate the 300th anniversary, almost to the day, of Peter the Great's visit to France. The Russian tsar arrived in France to better understand the secrets of the kingdom, which stunned the world.
During the visit, which lasted several weeks, Peter the Great spent several days at Versailles, which already then represented the pinnacle of arts and technology, and where the ideals professed by Enlightenment figures and the genius of the spirit of that era were already beginning to emerge in the early 18th century. It was in Versailles that Peter the Great met with engineers, writers, and archivists. As we know from history, he returned to Russia some time later with new ideas and beliefs, as well as sketches (which we will see together in a short while), with a great desire to modernise your country. He was elected Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, which was a source of inspiration for him.
Peter the Great is a symbol of the Russia that wanted to become open to Europe and borrow from Europe the things that made it great and strong. We have just talked about this during our discussion. What is particularly important about this story, which is now three centuries old, is the dialogue between Russia and France that never stopped, the dialogue between our intellectuals and our cultures, which sowed the seeds of the friendship that has lasted to this day. This dialogue is marked by our outstanding thinkers, artists and statesmen.
You will see a sketch of the monument to Peter the Great, with which you are familiar, Mr President, since you were born in that beautiful city which is dear to you. This is the statue that became the pride of St Petersburg, your beloved city.
This Russia that is open to Europe, and this Franco-Russian friendship is what I wanted to share with you by inviting you here, to Versailles. This was the basis of our discussion today. This history transcends us and has cemented Franco-Russian friendship.
During the presidential election, France made a sovereign affirmation of its commitment to independence, its European choice and its desire to influence the fate of the world. None of the major challenges these days can be tackled without a dialogue with Russia.
This is exactly why I wanted to discuss together – as indeed we did during our lengthy conversation – a range of issues related to the present and future of our countries. I had the opportunity to discuss some important issues with President Putin. I reminded him of our priorities in Syria. And I think we will be able to work together in this direction – at any rate, this is my wish for the upcoming weeks.
Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism and destruction of terrorist groups, primarily, ISIS. This is the guiding light of our actions in Syria. Apart from the efforts within the coalition, I would like to strengthen our partnership with Russia.
I would also want us to arrange a democratic transition while preserving the Syrian state. I believe that the dysfunctional states in this region are a danger to our democracies. We have seen plenty of examples that led to the expansion of terrorist groups.
It is necessary to ensure stability and a democratic transition with two key points that were confirmed during the dialogue with President Putin.
First. A very clear red line for us is no use of chemical weapons by any party. This means that any use of chemical weapons will trigger an immediate response − from France, at least. My hope is that we exchange useful data and discuss our view of the situation on the ground.
Moreover, France will carefully monitor humanitarian access to civilians in the region and the process of evacuation across the conflict zones in the area, because during a conflict whose complexity is clear to all, innocent civilians must not become victims of our occasional collective inability to make a decision.
Based on these principles I would like to strengthen cooperation between our countries. There is also a desire to eventually find an inclusive political solution that would eradicate terrorism and restore peace in Syria.
Regarding the situation in Ukraine, we spoke about different details and the implementation of the so-called Minsk Agreements. We would like – and I hope President Putin will confirm what I say – to see regular talks in the Normandy format in the near future, including Germany and Ukraine, as well as a complete summary of their results. We would like to hear a detailed OSCE report in the Normandy format on structural elements of the current developments in the region.
This process should continue in this direction and we exchanged views on this issue. I then said that, for my part, I would like us to de-escalate this conflict and its consequences on both sides as part of the Minsk process.
Let us turn to bilateral issues now. I reminded President Putin about the importance of some topics related to our values and public opinion. I reminded the President that it is important for France that the rights of all minorities, all people, and the entirety of civil society are upheld. We spoke about LGBT people in Chechnya and NGOs in Russia. I told President Putin in no uncertain terms what France expects on this issue and we agreed to regularly monitor these developments together. President Putin told me that he took measures on LGBT people in Chechnya in order to find out the truth about the actions of the local authorities and to resolve delicate situations. For my part, I will attentively monitor developments to make sure they correspond to our values.
More broadly, we expressed the desire to make contacts between our civil societies more open and active to promote closer ties and constructive dialogue, like the current exchanges between Germany and Russia aimed at allowing young people, economic bodies, and academics and thinkers to engage in dialogue and become closer in order to overcome all kinds of miscommunication.
We would like to organise a Franco-Russian civil society forum. We will do this and call it the Trianon Dialogue in reference to the exhibition that we will visit in a couple of minutes. This will allow representatives of civil society and the academic community as well as the younger generation to work together more closely.
As for bilateral relations, I would like us to continue and intensify them.
As part of our cultural cooperation, important exhibitions took place last year, one organised by the Louis Vuitton Foundation together with the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum. I would like artists, musicians, writers and academics to work in the best conditions, therefore our ministers of culture will work on the corresponding roadmap.
Mr President, I am very glad that you will see Francoise Nyssen, our Minister of Culture. She used to work at a publishing house and released many famous Russian authors in French: as a publisher, she published adapted translations of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Pushkin and others.
Intensifying our bilateral relations also means continuing economic projects, research projects, and partnership projects in the aerospace industry and energy that have developed in recent years.
We will keep a watchful eye on their development. I would like to see smoother financing of these projects between our countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr President,
That, in short, is what I wanted to say about the conversation.
I would like us both to remember that history transcends us. We are now in the Gallery of Great Battles, where many military victories are commemorated. These great victories were often the result of misunderstandings and led to many victims.
You are from a city and from a country that fought in the previous century for freedom, especially for the freedom of Europe. History transcends us. We feel history here, at Versailles. And I would like us, you and I, to continue the dialogue on all the issues that constitute the present and the future of our countries, to act pragmatically and rigorously to overcome all difficulties that might come our way.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
I would also like to thank President Macron for inviting me to come to this wonderful corner of France, to Versailles, which I have never visited before. It is definitely an impressive place that speaks of France’s grandeur and its long history, which plays a substantial part in the ties our two countries share. This is reflected in the exhibition we are about to visit, an exhibition marking the 300th anniversary of the visit to France by tsar and reformer Peter I. The ties between Russia and France did not begin with this visit however, but go back much deeper in time.
The educated French public is familiar with Anna of Rus, Queen of France. She was the youngest daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, married Henri I and made a substantial contribution to France’s development as one of the founders of at least two European dynasties, the Bourbons and the Valois. One of these dynasties is on the throne to this day in Spain.
However, today, we spent more time discussing our bilateral relations and relations between Russia and the European Union. We spoke about the problem spots in the world and looked together for common approaches to resolving these complicated matters.
I believe that our countries’ fundamental interests are far more important than political considerations of the moment. The French business community understands this best and continues working actively in Russia. Let me remind you that over these past years, not a single one of the close to 500 French companies working on our market has left Russia, despite the difficulties and economic constraints. Furthermore, we see the interest our French friends show in expanding this economic cooperation. Last year, direct French investment in the Russian economy increased by $2.5 billion. Our bilateral trade is growing too. It was up 14 percent last year, and grew by 23.7 percent in the first quarter of this year.
We discussed humanitarian cooperation in considerable depth. We spoke about the undisputed need to develop our youth exchanges. More Russian students should study in France and more French students should come to Russia to study the history, culture and languages of our countries. I noticed that President Macron has a number of people with knowledge of Russian in his entourage. I hope they are not Sovietologists, but specialists in Russia in the broad sense, encompassing our language, culture and history. This is a positive development. I hope that we will have more supporters here, more people who understand us better, are attuned to us, and with whom we can hold substantive discussions on matters of mutual interest.
The exhibition we will visit now presents priceless items from the State Hermitage Museum related to Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717. As President Macron and I noted, this visit has become a major milestone in the history of our bilateral relations, setting them on a friendly track for many years to come.
Indeed, we spoke about key bilateral issues, the economy and cultural ties. We also spoke about the Ukrainian crisis and opportunities for solving the Syrian issue. Needless to say, we did not ignore the complicated and highly dangerous situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue and missile programme. We are fully committed to searching for joint solutions to all these problems. Of course, these solutions must improve the situation, not make it worse.
We agreed that fighting terrorism remains a critical common challenge today. The President suggested establishing a working group and exchanging delegations between Moscow and Paris in order to develop in practical terms – and I’d like to emphasise this – cooperation in countering the terrorist threat that is extremely dangerous both for us and for the European countries, including France.
As for the Syrian issue, our position is well known and I described it for the President again. We believe it is impossible to counter the terrorist threat by destroying the statehood of countries that are already suffering from internal problems and disputes. I am convinced that positive results can only be achieved by working together in the fight against terrorism. However, I would like to repeat that we can achieve these results only if we join efforts in practice, countering together this plague of the 20th and 21st centuries.
I would like to thank the President once again for his invitation. He mentioned that Peter the Great spent several weeks in France, but as we know, everything in the diplomatic world is built on the basis of reciprocity. I would also like to invite the President to visit Russia. I hope he will be able to spend several weeks in Moscow.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Emmanuel Macron: Thank you, Mr President.
Question: We are marking 300 years of Russian-French diplomatic relations, but over these past years, we have been getting the impression that there is not much to celebrate. We have heard some positive signals, including those mentioned by Mr Macron and Mr Putin. You spoke of establishing a humanitarian forum and setting up a counterterrorism commission. Is it possible some of the other numerous bilateral cooperation mechanisms that had worked very effectively would resume operation?
I would like to ask another question too. Russia is frequently accused of meddling in elections. Such accusations were levelled at Russia during the recent election campaign in France. Did you discuss this matter at all? Were any clarifications given or questions asked?
Vladimir Putin: You said that we are celebrating 300years since Peter the Great’s visit to France. This visit was a major event in our bilateral relations, so how can there be nothing to celebrate? We are celebrating this 300th anniversary. So long as we have the desire to celebrate, we will always find something to celebrate. This is especially true because, as I have just said, our bilateral trade is recovering, we are now looking for common ground on key issues on the international agenda, and, it seems to me, we are capable of making a common effort to move forward, or at least to start moving forward together towards resolving the key current issues.
As for Russia’s alleged meddling in whichever elections, no, we did not discuss this matter and President Macron showed no interest in it. And why would I bring it up? I think this issue does not exist.
Emmanuel Macron: Let me say on this subject that we want to activate our strategic economic dialogue.
We discussed the matter of a joint working group on Syria. We also agreed that I would inform the German Chancellor in the coming hours that we wish to activate the Normandy format and hold talks with the OSCE’s participation. The progress made through this dialogue is very important.
Great events do not happen overnight. President Putin called me after my election to congratulate me on my victory. I am a pragmatic person and we already touched on a number of issues. I said what I wanted to say and he spoke about his concerns. We are making progress. I consider it important to discuss concrete matters.
I already ran through the subjects we discussed, and if I have said something once, it is not my habit to come back to it again.
Question (retranslated): Mr Putin, you received the National Front candidate [Marine Le Pen] in the Kremlin in March and supported her in the presidential race, at least tacitly. In addition, there was the case of the hackers. There is talk that maybe they were from Russia and tried to interfere in the election campaign in France. I would like to ask both of you. You are now standing on this podium next to each other, and it does not feel like Franco-Russian relations are very warm. Have they become at least a little warmer as a result of this meeting? We are now talking about the climate of the meeting, but there is also the issue of human rights. Did you talk about that?
Emmanuel Macron: With regard to the first question, I would like to say that it is not for me to comment on Madame Le Pen's visits in March. In elections the decision is made by the sovereign people of France, and they did not vote for the National Front candidate.
With regard to the other questions, I have never believed that in politics one should comment on issues of thermodynamics or chemistry. You mentioned the climate. It really is fairly warm here, the climate is warming. However, this was our first exchange of views, and I believe it was open and candid, and we said many things to each other. I said what I think about a number of situations. I will not disclose some of the things that I said, because this is accepted practice in diplomacy and politics. However, I think we told each other everything.
Of course, there are things that we disagree on, but we spoke out on them as well. Most importantly, we discussed how we should go about our joint actions. We must act together, because if we do not create the right conditions for this, we will not be able to make any progress on the issues that were mentioned. Unless we have a candid and sincere – yes, sometimes there may be issues in such a dialogue – and a constructive dialogue, we will not be able to make any progress either on Ukraine or on Syria.
As for human rights and other matters, we discussed them as well. Yes, we covered specific instances, but we will not talk about them publicly. I do not think that this will help progress in this area. At the very least, I really want us to be able to find a solution that is in line with the values we are committed to. And I will not give these values up.
Vladimir Putin: The first part of your question concerned hackers. I would like to draw your attention to how this question was worded. At any rate, this is how it was translated. You said, “They say that maybe Russian hackers interfered.” How can one comment on such statements? “They say.” Who said and based on what – that is unclear.
My second point. “Maybe Russian hackers.” And maybe not. Are these the grounds on which conclusions are drawn? The press can permit itself any conclusion. That is what the press is for, to let people know different views. However, in politics this is a road leading nowhere – to justify one’s actions or form one’s impressions on the basis of assumptions that have not been confirmed by anything. This is the first part.
Secondly, apropos Ms Le Pen’s reception in the Kremlin. This was not her first visit to Moscow. She used to come to Moscow regularly. I do not believe that her views on preserving the identity of European nations and consolidating the sovereignty of European countries are entirely baseless or senseless. I do not think so. My position may not coincide with that of my other colleagues but I have always expressed it openly. This is the first point. Secondly, we are always ready to receive any person. If Ms Le Pen inquired about a meeting, why should we turn her down? Especially – and this is the main point for us – since she has always stood for developing relations with our country. It would be bizarre for us to push away those European politicians who want to develop diverse cooperation with Russia. That is how I would answer.
This does not at all mean that we tried to somehow influence the elections, which was simply impossible because we were fully aware of the political realities in France. Do you think we did not know the public opinion polls, did not understand what was taking place and whom the majority of people in France preferred? We saw and understood everything clearly.
And my last point. On such matters… We are not children, are we? We are dealing with serious business. Apart from the current political environment, there are the fundamental interests of the people of Russia and France. The President and I are guided by these interests in our work and we will continue to be.
Question: A question on Syria.
Developments in Syria show that it is difficult for one country to achieve impressive results in settling the crisis. Do you think Russia and France could cooperate to resolve this conflict? And if so, on what scale could they cooperate?
To continue on my colleague’s theme of the election campaign in France, it was not easy for Russian journalists to get access to your election headquarters. Can you comment on how you will build relations with foreign journalists?
Emmanuel Macron: I will start with your second question. I can have exemplary relations with foreign journalists if they are journalists. Politicians have a responsibility to speak the truth. If some people are spreading lies, they are not journalists anymore. Russia Today and Sputnik were spreading false information and I believe they had no place in my election headquarters. However, all foreign journalists, including those from Russia, had access to my headquarters. The rules are very simple and will always be the same. The situation was so serious because during the democratic campaign some so-called media outlets interfered, acting under the influence of certain political interests. In other words, Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave as the press or as journalists should. They behaved like bodies of influence, bodies of propaganda, that is, bodies of false propaganda, no more and no less.
As for the first question, of course we will cooperate. We are already cooperating on the Syrian issue and this is absolutely necessary. This is precisely the decision I made. I told President Putin that I would like to cooperate very closely on this matter. We have a priority, and it is a common priority, this is struggle against terrorism. This is an absolutely fundamental priority. It overrides any other priorities.
The second point. I would like us to share information in order to work better at the local level. Moreover, we cannot afford to allow the disintegration of the Syrian state and the deterioration of the situation in that region. There are two red lines here. We must be unwavering on the use of chemical weapons and on humanitarian access to civilians.
I want to win the war against terrorists in Syria and I would like us to jointly build durable peace in Syria, political peace in Syria, and we will work together to make this happen.
Vladimir Putin: France of course is making its contribution to the fight against terrorism in Syria as part of the US-led international coalition. We do not know how much independence France has when it comes to operational matters because these are agreements between allies and we are not privy to that.
However, there is, I believe, something more important than that. It is important that during the talks today we felt that we take a similar view of many things and we assess many things from the same angle, though there are also some divergences. However, what we have in common gives us reason to believe that we can not only intensify but also qualitatively improve our interaction. This is my hope.
Emmanuel Macron: Thank you very much! Now we will continue our programme and head to the exhibition. Thank you for your attention!
Question (retranslated): One last question.I would like to go back to the issue of Syria. I would like to get a very concrete answer from you concerning the political process. You are calling for a political process. Russia, Turkey and Iran are working on this issue. You said at the G7 meeting that this does not suit you and that you would like to see a resumption of the political dialogue with the Syrian state. You have said that you would like to preserve the state and avoid chaos. Are you prepared to reopen our embassy in Damascus?
Also a question about Ukraine. You spoke about the Minsk process and the Normandy format, but at the same time during the G7 meeting, there was talk of the possibility of fresh sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine. How do these two things square?
Emmanuel Macron: On the first question. Of course, we should determine the framework of the diplomatic process I have mentioned. I reaffirm that what has been done in Astana has been done in favour of de-escalation. However, I also reaffirm that it would only satisfy us if the situation is settled in the long term with due account of what we know about the Syrian situation. I mean the various groups, terrorist groups from Syria, which commit terrorist acts also on our territory, and there is the migration from there. I talked about it with President Putin.
I would like to see political and diplomatic frameworks for discussions so that we could build peace. In this context, it is necessary to negotiate together with all the participants in this process. But to do so we have to start exchanging information and views. Together with the other partners, it is necessary to negotiate with all the parties to the Syrian conflict, including Assad’s representatives. Opening our embassy in Damascus is not a priority for us. I will not insist on that. I need a clear road map for building peace on that territory and stabilising the situation. That is what I require.
But as I said, I have two major requirements. The use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. And the other thing is searching for solutions for humanitarian access to all the theatres of operations where it is necessary. That is as far as Syria is concerned. We shall work on this in the coming weeks and months.
With regard to Ukraine, I confirm what I said earlier, that the sanctions would be toughened if needed. If there is de-escalation, this will not happen. And I hope there will be de-escalation. In this context, in the coming days, literally in the coming weeks, we will hold a discussion in the Normandy format, which will allow us to develop a full assessment of the situation. Therefore, we also want the OSCE to make a preliminary report, which would clarify for all four parties what is happening in the conflict zone, and what is happening with the weapons. You are aware that the OSCE can gain access to these areas and report to us on the situation. Everything is completely transparent, I am telling you this, and we are seeking de-escalation in this region as part of the Minsk process.
Vladimir Putin: For my part, I would like to thank you, especially for the second part of your question.
You wanted to know how sanctions on Russia could help overcome the crisis in southeastern Ukraine. They cannot. Therefore, I am addressing you and the French media: fight for the lifting of all restrictions in the global economy. Only the lifting of all restrictions – a free market and free competition, honest, not burdened by political considerations or fleeting interests – can help to grow the global economy and help to resolve issues such as unemployment and raising the living standards of our citizens.
Thank you very much for your attention to these issues.