VERSAILLES, France: President Emmanuel Macron hosts Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday in their first meeting since he came to office with differences on Ukraine and Syria in full view.
After playing handshake power games with US President Donald Trump at his first international summit last week, 39-year-old Macron hosts the Russian leader in the splendor of Versailles outside Paris.
It is Macron’s latest test of his diplomatic mettle after the G7 talks in Sicily last week and the NATO summit in Brussels where he turned the tables on Trump by refusing to release his hand for several seconds during the handshake for the cameras.
“It is essential to talk to Russia because there are many international issues that will not be resolved without a tough exchange with the Russians,” Macron said in Sicily.
Russia’s powerful ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said he hoped the meeting could help turn the page on the fraught relationship between Putin and Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande.
“Many things in the future will depend on the first meeting,” Orlov told Europe 1 radio.
“It is very important that we begin to dissipate the mistrust that has built up in recent years.”
As a candidate, Macron had tough words for Russia, accusing it of following a “hybrid strategy combining military intimidation and an information war”.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.
Macron told a French weekly that he was “not bothered” by leaders who “think in terms of power ratios”, citing Putin as an example along with Trump.
But Macron, who became France’s youngest president just three weeks ago, said he does not believe in “the diplomacy of public invective but in bilateral dialogue”.
‘Not a single concession’
Macron said he would make “not a single concession” to Russia on the long-running conflict in Ukraine as he and his G7 counterparts said they were prepared to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.
Government forces have been battling Moscow-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine for over three years.
Western powers charge Russia with failing to honor its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the hostilities.
France helped spearhead the sanctions, which have seriously dented EU-Russia trade, with a retaliatory Russian embargo on European agricultural products hurting French farmers.