French coming to Crimea does not thaw diplomatic ice
Ukraine is alongside the majority of the Western countries that still don’t understand what these ten French MPs have understood
A totally French restaurant in the heart of Moscow. Cameras, journalists, more than 120 people, French snacks and wine on the restaurant’s bill. Laughter. The clinking of glasses. Only the French language is heard. It was in these surroundings that a delegation of 10 French MPs returning from Crimea held their most recent press conference.
The visit made much noise in international media. “Courageous,” “promising,” “important” were words used to describe the visit on one side, while the other side branded it “illegal,” “breaking international law,” “forbidden,” “provocative,” “shameful.” This visit took place despite pressure coming from the top of the French government. The MPs ignored all the threats, all the requests to cancel the trip, demonstrating enough courage, a love for freedom and an enviable French stubbornness towards insubordination.
The motive to go to Crimea was simple – to see events on the ground with their own eyes, not through the distorting mirror of the press. But this was also a step taken to show that politicians in France are not in unanimous agreement with the government on the issue of Crimea.
The French government and other MPs also didn’t fail to express their disagreement with the ten “renegades.” Pro-government French and mainstream Western media didn’t hold back on the negative labels to describe how awful their deed was. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government depicted their visit to Crimea as “an act of disrespect to the national sovereignty of Ukraine and conscious violation of the law of Ukraine” and they were announced persona non grata on Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine is alongside the majority of the Western countries that still don’t understand what these ten French MPs have understood. Crimea will not return to Ukraine. The French delegation has witnessed this reality, have admitted that there are problems and know that not all is perfect. But the situation in Crimea is for now stable, with no military uniforms seen at each corner of the peninsula. A main point of angst for the people of Crimea has been the Western sanctions imposed on them as punishment for expressing their will, which the West didn’t find corresponding to its interests.
There is no point in making poker faces and declaring that the West is guarding international law and is concerned about the future of Ukraine as a country. History is already full of examples that don’t add up in favor of this ideal explanation of the Western stance. It’s quite clear that in the Ukrainian mess, the West is motivated by its own geopolitical interests. Crimea was a geopolitically strategic point for which Western powers have certain plans. Ukraine was meant to be an ideal strategic point to counter Russian expansion and power. The future of the Ukrainian people is the last thing that interests Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and especially, Washington.
Nevertheless, there is no need to overestimate the importance of the French parliamentarians' visit to Crimea, both in negative and positive terms, by all sides. The situation is still far from the point at which we can say “the glacier began to melt”. There is traditionally a part of French society and political circles that always sympathizes with Russia. Russia historically has a special affection towards France. No wonder why even in crisis, the states are bounded by the once forged good relations between the two countries. Thus nothing completely extraordinary has happened, if we do not to take into account the presence in the French delegation of one left wing representative of the political establishment, that is completely hostile towards Russia now.
Not the first time
It’s not the first visit of French parliamentarians to Russia in crisis times. And even if it was the first, their visit to Crimea won’t bring to the peninsula the raising of the sanctions and the acknowledgement of the territory as a part of Russia. Even if many of the visiting MPs have influence and power inside the French political system, their voices are still mostly the voices in the wilderness. However, they are strong enough alongside the noise raised by the media, to make people who are in doubt, resort to analysis themselves. This visit changes nothing, but it already entered history as the first Western delegation of politicians to come to Crimea after its “annexation by Russia” or “reunification with Russia”. A group of Italian parliamentarians have also expressed their intention to visit Crimea, following their French counterparts, hoping to see how the peninsula lives after the historical referendum and its consequences. They have already admitted that they are a minority in the Italian parliament, but they want to see what is going on there with their own eyes.
The Crimean problem remains as long as the Russia-West crisis is far from being over. The separate thaws don’t make the spring come. And new layers of frost freeze the achievements of separate diplomatic maneuvers and modest attempts to break the ice. The visits of the French political minority representatives don’t influence the climate as a whole. And the consequences can even be the opposite to what was expected by the visitors due to the reaction of the French political majority. But this will become more evident in the near future.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme
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