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Macron Holds Talks With Russian President Putin In France


Recent elections have affected relations between the United States, Europe and Russia. The election of Donald Trump did that, and so evidently did the election of moderate Emmanuel Macron as president of France. Today he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin. And as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, Macron tried to mend his country's relations with Russia.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: An exhibit on the 300th anniversary of Czar Peter the Great's visit to France is being held at the Palace of Versailles, and France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, invited his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to inaugurate it with him.



BEARDSLEY: TV announcers commented live as Putin's motorcade drove through the gilded gates of the Palace. Because of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, former President Francois Hollande refused to meet with Putin last year. Hollande also cancelled an order for two warships France was building for Russia.

Pascal Boniface, the head of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, says the exhibit at Versailles offered the new French president a chance to reengage with the longtime Russian leader.

PASCAL BONIFACE: (Through interpreter) Given the rancorous relations between France and Russia today, it would have been difficult for Macron to invite Putin as his first foreign guest. But this grand cultural exhibit that appeals to both Russia and France gave him a pretext.

BEARDSLEY: The meeting was protested by human rights groups. Although, Macron consulted with them to prepare the visit. That's the first time a French president has done that, says Sacha Koulaeva with the International Federation of Human Rights. She says the international community needs to be tougher on Putin.

SACHA KOULAEVA: We cannot treat a person who is responsible of crimes against humanity and war crimes as a normal head of state.

BEARDSLEY: After a one-on-one meeting with just interpreters, no advisers, and a long lunch, Macron and Putin finally emerged for a joint press conference in the great Hall of Battles at Versailles.



BEARDSLEY: Macron and Putin said their meeting was frank, direct, and they spoke of every topic from the Ukraine war to gays being killed in Chechnya. And a new approach to ending the war in Syria may have emerged, says Christian Makarian, editor of news magazine L'Express. Makarian says both leaders agreed on the need to have a functioning Syrian state without ever mentioning Syria's current leader, Bashar al-Assad.

CHRISTIAN MAKARIAN: I mean this is something that could be common between the Russians and the French - the idea to keep the Syrian state in function. That means that we want Assad to go away but not necessarily the regime to change. This is a subtle change.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: There was the inevitable question about Russian meddling in the French presidential election. A Russian journalist asked why two of her colleagues had been thrown out of Macron's campaign headquarters.


MACRON: (Through interpreter) I have a great relationship with foreign journalists as long as they're journalists. Reporters from Russia today and Sputnik we're not journalists but propagandists spreading total lies about me, no more, no less.

BEARDSLEY: News magazine editor Makarian says Macron felt this was something he couldn't forget and he couldn't forgive.

MAKARIAN: And meanwhile, Putin remained mute, completely mute. Putin's face showed a very embarrassed man knowing that all these Russian medias never function without governmental authorization.

BEARDSLEY: Macron said Peter the Great opened his country to France and Europe, and he now hopes France and Russia's common history can help reset relations today. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.