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#France Gives #Russia ‘Last Chance’ to Negotiate With West

President Vladimir Putin approaches to shake hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande during a meeting at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, Dec. 6. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

Alexey Eremenko, The Moscow Times.

The weekend meeting between the French and Russian presidents has given France a chance to become “the new Germany” for Russia, which lost its last Western ally after a falling-out with official Berlin, analysts say.

French mediation “is aimed at preventing Russia-EU relations from going to the dogs,” said Tatiana Kastueva-Jean of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris.

For France, reaching out to Russia has the benefit of boosting President Francois Hollande’s flagging rating and upholding Paris’ longtime strategy of relative independence in foreign affairs.

But the success of Hollande’s bid depends on both the Kremlin and the other Western powers, said Arnaud Dubien, head of the French-Russian think tank Observo.

“Everybody loses if no one acts now,” Dubien, whose think tank is affiliated with the French-Russian Chamber of Commerce, said Monday.

Airport Talks

Hollande held a snap meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport.

The agenda was dominated by Ukraine, where fighting persists between a pro-Russian insurgency and governmental forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“I very much hope that in the near future we will have a final cease-fire agreement” on Ukraine, Putin said after the meeting, Reuters reported.

He also endorsed the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, indicating that Russia did not plan to annex the rebel-held regions as it did with Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March.

For his part, Hollande spoke about a possible end to Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine, linking it to the hopefully forthcoming cease-fire.

In an apparent follow-up, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — whom Hollande reportedly consulted before meeting Putin — announced new talks with rebels starting Tuesday.

Experts said Moscow and Paris appeared to have found common ground on Ukraine — though under-the-table deals may have been thrown into the mix.

“France likely pledged to guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO,” Dubien said. Kiev joining the alliance is a longtime fear for Putin’s government.

Don’t Mention the War(ships)

Though France has backed EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, it has taken a notably moderate stance toward Moscow.

Hollande was one of the few Western leaders who did not give Putin a hard time at a G20 meeting in Australia’s Brisbane last month.

Nor have French authorities pressured French businesses to cut connections to Russia like Germany did, said Sergei Fyodorov of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Russia-France bilateral trade stood at an admittedly modest $15.6 billion, or 2.4 percent of Russia’s total foreign trade in the first 10 months of this year, according to Russia’s Federal Customs Service. It has shrunk during the past few years.

France’s willingness to go easy on Russia may have been due to the 3 billion euro ($3.7 billion) lawsuit Moscow threatened over the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers it commissioned in 2010.

Hollande said in September that the ships’ delivery was being postponed over Russia’s role in Ukraine.

Putin said that the Mistrals were not discussed during his meeting with Hollande over the weekend, Reuters reported — a claim that experts polled by The Moscow Times were inclined to believe.

Paris is apparently trying to prevent the single issue of the Mistrals from dominating the bilateral agenda, said Kastueva-Jean, who heads the Russia-NIS (New Independent States) Center at IFRI.

Germany Out, France In

Russia’s prime ally in the West until recently was Germany, whose bilateral trade with Russia, tellingly, stood at $56 billion (8.8 percent of Russia’s total) between January and October, according to customs figures.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had advocated a softer stance on Russia from the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine.

But last month she joined the hard-liners after extensive talks with Putin at the G20 summit, where she reportedly failed to sway him on Ukrainian separatists.

“Hollande’s reaching out to Putin is an attempt to balance out Germany’s influence in the EU,” Kastueva-Jean said.

“France is the last big country that can mediate between Russia and the West,” Dubien said.

Channeling Sarkozy

There is a recent precedent for Hollande’s attempts to play peacemaker with Russia: In 2008, his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy brokered the end to the “five-day war” between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Hollande, struggling with dismal approval ratings, is clearly keen to follow in Sarkozy’s footsteps, experts agreed.

But he is also enacting France’s general drive toward a relatively independent foreign policy, which dates all the way back to Charles de Gaulle, said Fyodorov of the Russian Academy of Sciences. De Gaulle dominated French politics from World War II to the late 1960s.

However, much depends on whether Putin will — or, indeed, can — really influence the ragtag band of rebels in eastern Ukraine, analysts said.

And just as vital is whether official Brussels and Washington would be willing to back France’s diplomatic effort, or whether they will stick to their hard-line position, Dubien said.

“We’ll know within days,” the analyst said. “But if we miss this chance to end the crisis, the window of opportunity will close for a long time, months at least.”

Related News:

The Moscow Times.


Russian Lawmakers See #France’s Le Pen Re-Elected as National Front Head

Marine Le Pen, France's National Front political party leader, sings the Marseillaise anthem after delivering a speech at their congress in Lyon, Nov. 30.Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front political party leader, sings the Marseillaise anthem after delivering a speech at their congress in Lyon, Nov. 30. Photo: Robert Pratta / Reuters


LYON — France’s far-right National Front has re-elected its leader Marine Le Pen with a 100 percent mandate at a party congress marked by closer ties to Russia and the rise of a new generation of the Le Pen dynasty.

Opinion polls suggest Le Pen, who took over from her father Jean-Marie at the party’s last congress in 2011, will repeat his 2002 feat of reaching a second-round run-off for president of France at the forthcoming 2017 election.

“No one can be in any doubt that we will be in the second round,” Le Pen told some 2,000 enthusiastic supporters, who chanted “Marine, president,” on Sunday.

The anti-immigrant party came first in this year’s European Parliament elections in France, winning a quarter of all votes. Dissatisfaction with traditional parties on the right and left, and frustration at Socialist President Francois Hollande’s failure to fix high unemployment have bolstered its support.

It also appeals to voters unhappy with the multicultural face of France and angry about the power of European Union bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine has allowed it to differentiate itself further from mainstream parties, giving vocal support to Russia and denouncing Western sanctions.

Underscoring the close ties with Moscow, a senior National Front official confirmed last week the party had received funding from First Czech Russian Bank.

The Mediapart investigative web site says the party, which accuses Western banks of snubbing it, has secured loans worth 9 million euros ($11 million) from FCRB. The FCRB and the National Front could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Defending Putin

Russian lawmakers also attended Sunday’s congress. Andrei Isayev, who sits in the Duma lower house, said on his Twitter account that he gave a speech there. Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament’s international affairs committee, was also in attendance according to French media. Both men are members of the United Russia party, which is close to President Vladimir Putin.

Largely ostracized by Western leaders, who accuse him of fomenting a separatist revolt in Ukraine, Putin appeals to the National Front thanks to his image as an uncompromising patriot.

Le Pen has fiercely attacked the French government’s recent decision to suspend delivery of a helicopter-carrying warship to Russia, saying France has acted against its national interest and caved in to U.S. pressure.

“We are wrongly accused of being anti-Europe, but we are for [a Europe] that stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals, not from Washington to Brussels,” Le Pen said Saturday.

The party congress also saw Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 24, the leader’s niece and granddaughter of the party founder, top Saturday’s ballot for the party’s central committee, winning 80 percent of the vote, ahead of Florian Philippot, the group’s deputy leader who is seen to represent a more liberal wing.

Marechal-Le Pen, whose blonde locks and broad face leave little doubt about her lineage, told BFM TV on Sunday that she backed her aunt and had no grand political ambitions, “above all none that would cast a shadow over her.”

Marine Le Pen’s emphatic victory came the day after former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy returned to frontline politics, winning the leadership of his conservative UMP party — a potential step towards seeking a second presidential mandate.

Le Pen painted both Sarkozy and Hollande as losers.

“You messed everything up,” she said. “They gave you a treasure — France — and a diamond — its people. You have ruined the one and abandoned the other.”

Related News:

The Moscow Times.

Reuters: #France postpones decision on delivery of #Mistral carriers

The Mistral-class assault warship Sevastopol (L), the second of two mammoth Mistral helicopter carriers, is docked on Nov. 21, 2014 near the Russian training ship, Smolny (R), in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire after being taken overnight from its dry dock. © AFPThe Mistral-class assault warship Sevastopol (L), the second of two mammoth Mistral helicopter carriers, is docked on Nov. 21, 2014 near the Russian training ship, Smolny (R), in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire after being taken overnight from its dry dock. © AFP


France suspended indefinitely on Tuesday delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carrier warships to Russia, citing conflict in eastern Ukraine where the West accuses Moscow of fomenting separatism.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told RIA news agency Russia would not for now pursue claims against France over non-delivery, but expected the contract to be fulfilled.

“We are satisfied with everything, it’s the French who are not satisfied. We will wait patiently,” Borisov was quoted as saying. “Everything is laid down in the contract, we will act in accordance with the letter of the contract as all civilized people do.”

France has been under pressure for months from its Western allies to scrap the 1.2 billion euro ($1.58 billion) contract, but faces potential compensation claims if it breaches terms. Suspension of contracts is a sensitive issue at a time when France is finalizing other military deals.

“The President of the Republic considers that the situation in the east of Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first BPC (helicopter carrying and command vessel),” said a statement from President Francois Hollande’s office.

“He has therefore decided that it is appropriate to suspend, until further notice, examination of the request for the necessary authorization to export the first BCP to the Russian Federation.”

An aerial view shows the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok constructed for Russia at the STX Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard site in the port of Montoir-de-Bretagne near Saint Nazaire, western France, September 22, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/STEPHANE MAHEAn aerial view shows the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok constructed for Russia at the STX Les Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard site in the port of Montoir-de-Bretagne near Saint Nazaire, western France, September 22, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/STEPHANE MAHE

The United Nations says over 4,300 people have been killed in a pro-Russian separatist insurrection in eastern Ukraine which the West says Moscow has promoted. Russia for its part denies any involvement but accuses the Ukrainian military of using indiscriminate violence against civilians.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alexandria Sage and Ralph Boulton).


#French #ISIS fighters call for terror at home

“You will even fear travelling to the market,”

You will even fear travelling to the market,” one fighter says. French ISIS fighter. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Staff writer | Al Arabiya News.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group has released a video showing several French-speaking fighters calling on Muslims in France to launch a terror campaign at home.

The video, which according to the Guardian was released by ISIS’ media wing Al Hayat Media Department, shows a group of unmasked fighters around a fire in a wooded area, burning what appear to be their French passports.

One of the masked men can be heard saying: “We disbelieve in you and your passports, and if you come here we will fight you.”

France is a member of the international coalition fighting the militant group, although it has restricted its operation to Iraq, one of the two countries ISIS has managed to gain a foothold in. On Wednesday, Paris said it had increased the number of warplanes involved in the campaign.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says that “close to 50” French citizens have been killed fighting alongside Islamist militants in Syria.

Around 1,000 French nationals are thought to have taken part in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, with 375 currently there, the government has said.

French ISIS fighters have been implicated in the recent beheading of a group of Syrians that the group posted in a video online.

According to the Guardian, one of the fighters in the video identified as Abu Osama al-Faranci castigates French Muslims for not emigrating to ISIS’ so-called state.

A second fighter identified as Abu Maryam al-Faranci says the “mujahideen” will not hesitate to chop the heads of the “enemies of Islam,” the daily reported.

“You will even fear travelling to the market,” he said.

Abu Salman al-Faranci, another fighter, suggests that those who cannot join ISIS abroad “should “operate within France.”

“Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror,” he added.

“Do whatever you can to humiliate them,” he said.

ISIS has released similar propaganda videos aimed at recruiting Muslims from different parts of the world, including Europe and Australia.

Earlier this week, French President Francois Hollande voiced concern about the phenomena of Westerners joining ISIS, which has proclaimed a “caliphate” stretching parts of Iraq and Syria, and slammed how the recruits had been “brainwashed”.

Al Arabiya News.

#Muslim preachers in #France may be forced to take diploma

Foreign imams could be obliged to hold an officially recognised religious qualification before being allowed to preach.

Muslim men take part in an outdoor prayer session on Place de la Madeleine in Paris.Muslim men take part in an outdoor prayer session on Place de la Madeleine in Paris. There are about 1,800 imams working in France. Photograph: EPA/Corbis

Kim Willsher in Paris and John Hooper in Rome, The Guardian.

Foreign Islamic preachers will be obliged to take an officially recognised diploma before being allowed to work in France, under measures being considered by the French government.

The new rules, if adopted, would affect more than 70% of imams and Muslim community leaders in France and are aimed at combatting the spread of Islamist extremism and the radicalisation of young people.

An unpublished report, obtained by the Guardian, suggests officials should introduce measures to control who influences France’s Muslim population of about 5.5 million people.

Formal and “universal” training for Muslim religious leaders, it says, will discourage extremism, lead to greater integration and put imams on a level with clergy from other main religions.

However, Marco Ventura, a professor of law and religion at the University of Leuven in Belgium, who has seen the report, said it raised the controversial question of government meddling in religion. “This would be state intervention that reached to the heart of the Muslim community and affected its internal organisation,” he said.

“In many ways, though, it represents a return to 19th-century ideas of involving the state in religious training with the aim of modernisation. In those days, the targets were Jews and Christians. The document itself makes the point that there are precedents for what is being suggested.”

French officials estimate there are 1,800 imams working in the country, only 25-30% of whom hold French nationality. Of the 1,800, only 800 at most are paid either part- or full-time. Almost all of those receiving a salary are from Turkey, Algeria and Morocco, and have been trained in their respective countries.

The report, by Prof Francis Messner, an Islamic studies expert and director of research at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, suggests the introduction of more degree courses in at higher education colleges.

The course syllabus should include secular civic studies, humanities, science and other religions, it says. Diplomas in Islamic theology from private colleges would be officially recognised only if they included these subjects.

Messner said existing theological instruction for priests, pastors and rabbis had set a precedent. This teaching is intended to “avoid the creation of counter-societies preaching the supremacy of divine law over human law … [and] encourage the education of a tolerant, enlightened clergy … [that is] tolerant of other religious traditions or other forms of thought”.

The report recognises the difficulty of imposing training on Islamic preachers and giving them an official status because of the lack of a structured clergy in Islam, and the “multitude of associations or federations that are sometimes under the control of foreign states”. It adds: “The absence of a status defined by the religion itself, has produced the multiplying of self-proclaimed religious leaders.”

The report recognises that since 2008, France has created a “well-structured civic- and civil-training network for religious leaders, particularly Muslim religious leaders”, but says there must be more universities offering religious diplomas as well as centres of excellence in Islamic humanities and social sciences.

“The obtaining of a visa for foreign religious leaders wanting to work in France could be made conditional of them agreeing to study for a university diploma and, consequently, proving their good command of French,” the report suggests. “The recruitment of chaplains in the army, hospitals and prison establishments, who are public agents paid by the authorities, should be reserved for those candidates holding an university degree in civil and civic studies.”

Ventura said the report would trigger a debate on whether a neutral state should go that far. “But it is not clear whether the Muslims themselves will be opposed to these proposals. In Morocco and Turkey, for example, they are used to the idea of the state intervening actively in the affairs of the mosque. The proposals could also have implications for Christians – churches who bring in priests and vicars from abroad would presumably be subject to the same rules,” he said.

In a letter commissioning the report last year, French interior and education ministers wrote: “It is not intended in any way to enter into the theological content of the programmes which, in our republic, is exclusively the responsibility of the religious authorities.”

The report comes as France investigates two men believed to be involved in the beheadings of 18 Syrian soldiers and the US aid worker Peter Kassig in Syria.

Maxime Hauchard, 22,from Normandy, and Michaël Dos Santos, 22, from Champigny-sur-Marne, were named by the French interior ministry after being identified in the Islamic State (Isis) video of the murders released on Sunday. Intelligence officers believe the two jihadis were radicalised through the internet.

The ministry released figures this week stating that 1,132 French citizens were implicated in Isis, either as would-be fighters or suppliers of false papers. There are believed to be about 376 French Isis fighters, while dozens more are believed to be on their way or to have returned.

The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said 138 suspected Islamists in France were under investigation or in prison and had been neutralised.

The Guardian.


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