Macron heads to St. Petersburg on Thursday amid deep differences with Putin over Syria, Ukraine and alleged Russian meddling abroad. But both men want to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal.
Macron’s aides insist he is not cozying up to Putin, or seeking to pivot away from France’s longstanding alliance with the U.S. in favor of one with Russia and China.
Rather, they say Macron wants to keep a dialogue open to help solve world crises. And France wants Russia to use its influence with Iran to ensure it respects its nuclear commitments despite Trump’s decision.
And the Iran issue marks the first time that Russia, France and Germany agree on such a major matter in years.
“When points of view coincide, it can only mean that the countries edge at least a bit closer to each other,” Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said earlier this month.
France and Russia can’t save the nuclear accord on their own but are trying to find ways to keep it alive despite the threat of new U.S. sanctions on those doing business with Iran.
For the Kremlin, the EU pledge to protect its companies doing business with Iran from prospective U.S. sanctions sets an important precedent of the European resistance to the U.S. pressure.
Macron and Putin will also discuss economic ties despite sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They will meet with Russian and French executives at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Russia’s leading business event and a showcase for Putin.
Macron and Putin will also discuss Syria and Ukraine though neither side expects much progress. Instead they will focus on safe, lower-level ties and sign economic, cultural, university and sports agreements.
Macron will later pay homage to victims of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, St. Petersburg’s name during the Soviet era, and attend a performance at the Mariinsky Theater performance in honor of Marseillais choreographer Maurice Petipa.
One question will hang in the air during Macron’s two-day trip: Whether or not he will go to Russia when it hosts the World Cup starting next month, or stay away to protest the poisoning of an ex-Russian agent in Britain. Macron’s aides said the decision still hasn’t been made.