France to 'strengthen' ties with Russia despite sanctions
France is working to strengthen its relations with Russia in spite of Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, French economy minister Emmanuel Macron said in Moscow Monday.
"Our ministerial visits are not focused on diplomacy but show the strong desire to preserve and even strengthen our diplomatic relations while respecting the sanctions in the current political and diplomatic framework," Macron told reporters after talks with his Russian counterpart Alexei Ulyukayev.
"It is very important for our two economies to intensify our relations and move forward pragmatically."
As he arrived in Russia for a two-day visit, Macron on Sunday said Paris hoped EU sanctions imposed on Russia for fuelling a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine would be lifted this summer.
The minister said he expected the Minsk peace agreement -- a package of measures agreed by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in the Belarusian capital -- to be fulfilled by July 2016.
"Our hope is that all parties will respect their obligations in the Minsk agreements, which will allow the sanctions to be lifted," Macron said.
In late December, the EU extended its sanctions until July 31, as the intricate peace roadmap signed by Moscow has stuttered.
Fighting in Ukraine, which has cost more than than 9,000 lives since April 2014, is currently at its lowest level thanks to a succession of shaky ceasefires.
- Paris eyeing US 'guarantees' -
Macron also indicated Paris would seek "guarantees" from Washington to enable French banks to co-finance the giant Yamal gas project in Russia without falling prey to sanctions.
The $27 billion (25 billion euro) liquid natural gas project has being widely seen as a test case for US sanctions, not least because EU sanctions do not extend to energy.
French oil giant Total has a 20 percent stake in the project but the issue is clouded by US sanctions notably covering Novatek, a Russian firm with a 50 percent stake in the deal.
"The problem is not a problem of French or European sanctions but of American sanctions," Macron said.
"The French groups (involved) would naturally like to have guarantees to ensure they are not the subject of penalties from the US authorities in the case of the Yamal project, because Total's partner is on the US (sanctions) list," Macron said in allusion to Novatek.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said recently that $15 billion had already been raised in finance for the Yamal project as Russia looks to diversify exports of hydrocarbons to Asia to offset low growth in Europe amid rising strategic tensions such as Ukraine but also the conflict in Syria.
© 2016 AFP