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Putin sends late congratulations to Sarkozy

Published on May 09, 2007

MOSCOW, May 9, 2007 (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin sent election congratulations to Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Tuesday, 48 hours after his poll victory was announced and well after other world leaders.

Meanwhile, a message from Putin to out-going French President Jacques Chirac was effusive, reflecting Putin’s high regard for a man he has praised for his “sagacity… willpower and creative energy.”

Putin told Sarkozy “Franco-Russian relations have reached a very high level of trust and mutual understanding. I hope that your election will strengthen this further,” the Kremlin said.

He also highlighted France and Russia’s historical ties and stressed the need for cooperation in the United Nations and in relation to the European Union.

Russian newspapers and analysts have worried that relations could take a turn for the worse under the US-friendly Sarkozy, just at a time when the Kremlin is adopting an increasingly hard line on the United States.

To Chirac, with whom Putin often stood shoulder-to-shoulder, notably in opposition to the US-led Iraq war, the Russian leader sent a separate message referring to the “traditional respect and sympathy” between the two countries.

“I hold in high regard our coincidence of opinion on the strategic opportunity to bring together Russia and the European Union, more than once allowing us… to overcome difficulties that arose from time to time,” he said.

On Tuesday Russian newspapers and analysts predicted a possible chill in relations, some seeing the Kremlin’s slowness to react as a sign of problems ahead.

“Congratulations from one head of state to another are more than just official protocol, they are a sign of personal relations,” said Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow.

“Relations with Nicolas Sarkozy are seen without optimism. We can’t expect the same sympathy as there was with Jacques Chirac,” he said.

Others noted that the change of French leadership comes as Moscow is again toughening its stance on US foreign policy ahead of approaching elections in Russia at which Putin is himself due to stand down.

Russia is engaged in a war of words over US plans to extend US missile defence systems into central European countries once under Moscow’s control and has warned of a possible “cold war.”

“The Kremlin doesn’t know how to react. It’s not sure and it wants to work out if Sarkozy is really pro-American,” said Alexei Malashenko, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

Newspapers also pointed to past critical statements by Sarkozy about Putin and the war in Chechnya.

The pro-Kremlin Izvestia said lawmaker and Sarkozy aide Pierre Lellouche was “particularly malicious towards Russia” and that his potential appointment as foreign minister would be “catastrophic.”

But analysts also pointed to strong economic ties between France and Russia and said these were likely to survive.

“Economic relations are not going to change between France and Russia,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements. “France will remain a major investor in Russia.”

Volk agreed, saying: “In the economic sphere, the dynamic is not going to change but Sarkozy is going to be firmer on energy security in Europe, like (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel.”

On the occasion of Chirac’s 74th birthday last November Putin praised Chirac, saying that the “sagacity of the head of state, the willpower and creative energy” had helped development bilateral ties.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news