The French president did not mute his views in addressing his Russian counterpart – but nor did he shut the door to improving the relationship
When Peter the Great travelled to France in 1717, Louis XV was only seven years old. On meeting him, the tsar grasped the child king in his arms and lifted him up from the floor to kiss him heartily, shocking onlookers with his disregard of court formalities. An exhibit marking that visit’s tercentenary was the formal occasion for the meeting between Emmanuel Macron, France’s 39-year-old president, and Vladimir Putin, age 64, in the palace of Versailles on Monday. But there was no such enthusiasm at this meeting. This was another test for France’s newcomer to international affairs, who patted Mr Putin on the back – a contrast to his white-knuckle handshake with Donald Trump – but showed he would not be a pushover.
Gay rights, freedom for NGOs and the release of political detainees were raised explicitly in the press conference, echoing messages that Angela Merkel has often pressed upon Russia’s strongman. Behind the scenes, there may have been prior counselling from the German chancellor, Mr Putin’s most experienced and clear-sighted foreign interlocutor; Europe’s cohesion, and the defence of its interests, would be only the better for it.