Wednesday Mar 14, 2018
PARIS: France on Wednesday said it wanted firm proof of Russian involvement in the nerve-toxin poisoning of a Russian double agent in Britain before it took any action in solidarity with the British government.
In contrast to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump who assured British Prime Minister Theresa May they were taking her government’s views on possible Russian involvement extremely seriously, President Emmanuel Macron and other French officials have declined to mention Russia.
After France initially condemned the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter and expressed solidarity with Britain on Tuesday, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux on Wednesday said it was too early for Paris to decide whether action should be taken.
“We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made,” Griveaux told a news conference shortly after May said she was expelling Russian diplomats and suspending bilateral talks.
While he called the attack a “very serious act” on a strategic ally, Griveaux said France was waiting for “definitive conclusions” and evidence that the “facts were completely true” before taking a position.
Britain’s ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, tweeted on Tuesday that the first neuro toxin attack on European soil since 1945 required a “strong and coordinated response from our allies.”
When asked whether Paris would be ready to take counter-measures on Russia given London’s claims, foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll said Paris was in close contact with Britain on the issue.
Without answering directly, she added that Paris fully-supported a NATO statement calling on Russia to give Britain “complete disclosure” of the Soviet-era nerve agent used in the attack.
France’s muted reaction is in contrast with its closest allies, but is in line with Macron’s efforts since coming into office to build a new relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Rather than directly confronting Putin through threats and megaphone diplomacy, he has emphasized private dialogue, while pushing for a restoration of business and cultural ties despite existing European Union sanctions on Moscow.
Diplomats say Macron believes ostracizing Moscow will not yield results given its importance on the world stage and role in world crises. Despite obvious differences, he believes it is vital to keep a working relationship going with Russia.
Standing alongside Putin last May at the Chateau de Versailles, Macron heralded the start to a new page in relations after tensions under the previous administration. He said at the time that he wouldn’t let differences over Syria, Ukraine and human rights strain their relationship.
Nearly a year on, there is little evidence to suggest he has gained anything tangible from the alternative approach in terms of foreign policy successes. However, he is due to be the guest of honor at an investor forum in Saint Petersburg at the end of May where a large French business delegation will also be present.
“France has a policy on Russia that it’s going to stick to. There’s no reason for this to knock that off-target,” a French official said. “You’ve got to remember there are pretty close ties between France and Russia, whether around literature, culture and business, and they are important.”