France's Hollande to raise human rights in Russia

MOSCOW Thu Feb 28, 2013 2:50am EST

France's President Francois Hollande delivers his speech during an awards ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Bertrand Langlois/Pool

France's President Francois Hollande delivers his speech during an awards ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bertrand Langlois/Pool

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande will raise concerns about Russia's human rights record with Vladimir Putin on Thursday but he sought to play down differences that might undermine trade ties.

Hollande, who began his 24-hour debut trip to Moscow by giving a radio interview, hopes to strike a balance between a robust defense of human rights and the desire to boost France's economy by increasing business links with Russia.

An encounter in Paris last June between President Putin and the newly elected Socialist bristled with tension, unlike the cozy meetings between Putin and Hollande's conservative predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

Aides on both sides want to avoid the full-frontal clash on rights that marked German Chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to Moscow last year, when she accused Moscow of stifling dissent.

"We will discuss this with President Putin. I would not like to take a provocative approach," the French leader told the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station in an interview dubbed over with a Russian translation.

"Questions of democracy and human rights are just as important as other aspects of our cooperation."

He said Paris always sought to raise such questions with foreign partners in a friendly way and went on to describe Russia and France as old allies united by history and culture.

Hollande is under pressure in France to raise human rights concerns including the fate of Putin critics such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, 49, once Russia's richest man and now serving 13 years jail on fraud and tax evasion charges.

The French leader said he would also discuss with Putin foreign conflicts including Afghanistan and Syria, reiterating that Paris was respecting a European arms embargo to Syria.

He indicated that he favored a gradual lifting of the arms embargo, suggesting that "in a few weeks we will be able to find a political solution (on the arms embargo issue) which could stop the escalation of the conflict."

PUTTING DIFFERENCES ASIDE

With the French economy edging closer to recession and domestic demand moribund, Hollande needs all the outside help he can get to kick-start growth.

At around 1 billion euros, investment by Russian companies in France accounts for only a 12th of the French money that has flowed into Russia, a balance Paris wants to redress.

Yet everything - from Moscow's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Putin's relish at French actor Gerard Depardieu's decision to take Russian nationality for tax reasons - means the scope for misunderstandings is great.

Depardieu visited the Chechnya region at the weekend where human rights groups accuse security services of extrajudicial killings and other abuses. Hollande deflected questions about the actor during the interview with Ekho Moskvy, making clear he did not want the passport issue to affect relations with Russia.

"I am sure that the President of Russia made a decision that doesn't infringe on our interests," Hollande said.

"If he (Depardieu) decided to leave the country, if he loves Russia and Russia so loves Gerard Depardieu, then it is understandable. But still Depardieu loves France, which recognizes him as a great actor."

Hollande aides say that Paris and Moscow have similar views in several areas - notably on Mali, where Russia backed a U.N. resolution key to French efforts to extricate its soldiers and put African troops in the front line against al Qaeda allies.

Russia also saw Tuesday's offer by world powers of some sanctions relief to Iran in return for suspension of some atomic work as a sign Western states are moving closer to its views on an issue that has long divided the U.N. Security Council.

The two leaders may broach delicate energy issues, with the European Union seeking to wind down its gas reliance on Russia and Moscow angry over EU efforts to force dominant suppliers such as Russia's Gazprom to sell off infrastructure.

(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Thomas Grove, Writing by Mark John and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Jon Boyle)

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Comments (5)
nirvichara wrote:
“French President Francois Hollande will raise concerns about Russia’s human rights record with Putin….”

Imagine, that French President Francois Hollande will raise concerns about US human rights record with Obama.
How would America react ?….

That’s right, he would be advised to go and have sex with himself.
The same he would get from Putin, and rightly so….

Feb 28, 2013 12:54pm EST  --  Report as abuse
NeilMcGowan wrote:
Hollande shows up in Moscow with his begging bowl & then wants to lecture Russia too???

France is an irrelevant and pathetic country.

Feb 28, 2013 11:04pm EST  --  Report as abuse
FreedomFactor wrote:
Putin also violate civil right in USA thru massive extorsion and labor rackets.My 60 years of struggle with KGB let me to beg US people for help.Sent a buck or two to Guziel Legal Fund 19428 San marino CT, Newhall CA 91321. All this 60 years of resistance is for NOTHING.Putin is very smart. Without support,KRYSZA, nothing I can do to expose massive subversive invasion. Only 2 million $ will put me back into battle for America.So far Putin outfox me,my case will wanish. 100 trillion $ for high crimes will go with the wind.

Mar 01, 2013 3:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
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