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Emmanuel Macron hosts Vladimir Putin as Angela Merkel insists Europe must assert itself

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2017 Helene Fouquet

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron will give Russia’s Vladimir Putin a tour of the royal palace at Versailles near Paris on Monday, following up his debut at the Group of Seven meeting last week.

On their first encounter, the two leaders have a range of tricky topics to discuss, including what Macron called Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine and its role in Syria. The French president has promised a “demanding dialogue” at the talks, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a call for Europe to stand up for itself.

“Europe is now present on the international scene. Europe is solid, and that’s a message that the president will pass on,” Benjamin Griveaux, Macron spokesman during the election campaign, said on France 2 television on Monday. “Putin was maybe looking for a different results in these elections.” Griveaux said Macron would show Europe is united in its approach to Russia.

After 16 days in power, the 39-year-old president is still laying the foundations for his dealings with world leaders. After a series of bilateral meetings at the Nato gathering in Brussels Thursday and the G-7 summit which wrapped up in Sicily Saturday, Macron has said he is ready for the power games that leaders such as Putin and US President Donald Trump engage in, while drawing strength from his rapport with Merkel.

Building bridges

France’s youngest ever elected leader prepared an especially firm handshake for Trump and will meet Putin amid the gold and marble of Versailles and then show him round an exhibition commemorating Russian Czar Peter the Great, who visited France in 1717. Macron and Putin will tour the art works at a small palace built in the grounds of Versailles by King Louis XIV and later fully refurbished and used by Napoleon.

This isn’t the first time a French president has used Versailles to impress his guests. Communist-backed Francois Mitterrand invited Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pierre Trudeau for a G-7 meeting at the palace in 1982 to signal that he planned to lead France with a royal style.

Macron and Putin will hold about two hours of talks, including a 40-minute private meeting intended to establish ties after months of strained relations during the campaign.

Putin openly supported two of Macron’s rivals, Republican Francois Fillon and then Marine Le Pen, and Macron’s team accused the Russian government of involvement in a series of cyber attacks on their systems. Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, denied any role in the hacking in an interview on on Europe1 radio Monday.

“These attacks were never proved. And in cyber-attacks it’s very hard to determine where they come from. Russia was itself recently the victim of cyber-attacks,” Orlov said. He insisted that Le Pen, who met Putin at the Kremlin during the campaign, was never Russia’s preferred candidate. Bloomberg

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