France, Russia and the EU

I haven’t been able to find English-language coverage of this, so all I’ve got is this Le Monde article. But it’s worth mentioning because it looks to me like a potential sea change waiting to happen.

Two days ago, Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministers came to Paris for annual bi-lateral talks. The meeting resulted in a solid agreement from Russia to contribute 6-8 helicopters to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as a potential accord with NATO to lift restrictions on logistical shipments bound for Afghanistan through Russian territory, which had been limited to non-military supplies.

Here’s French Minister of Defense Hervé Morin’s statement after the meeting:

In the context of the development of Defence Europe, clearly, once we decide to give Europe more assets to maintain its own security, particularly by enabling it to deploy autonomous capabilities, it will be in a position to conduct significant operations, complementary to those which NATO could conduct.

Of course, this means we have to adopt a European approach going beyond the single issue of building the European Union, in the strict sense of the term, to embrace that of the European continent as a whole.

In this respect, developing the partnership and joint discussions between Russia and the European Union is a must.

Here’s French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner:

We talked about the security architecture in Europe, starting with relations between the European Union and Russia, looking ahead to the French presidency starting on 1 July, and also, more generally, about the work of the Slovenian presidency taking place at the moment.

It’s just a hunch, but I imagine they also talked about releasing 50 million euros in Russian Central Bank funds that had been frozen in France since January, although that might just be one of those happy coincidences that make life easier for diplomats worldwide.

The point here is that with all the talk about a new Cold War, it’s easy to overlook the ways in which Russia has been trying to play ball with the West. As Hubert Védrine once put it, during the Cold War the Russians were proposing/imposing an alternative to the world order. Now they just want their rightful place within it. The difference is significant, and allows for the kind of deal-making that Nicolas Sarkozy is most skilled at.

So keep an eye on this, first at the NATO summit in April and afterwards during France’s EU presidency. Sarkozy’s method is to always take what he can get while postponing conflict, of which there will certainly be plenty where EU-Russian relations is concerned. What will be interesting to see is how much he can get and in return for what.