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French President Takes Tough Message to Moscow

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is making his first trip to Russia as head of state. He will hold meetings with his Kremlin counterpart, Vladimir Putin, having recently criticized Russia for "complicating" world problems. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital.

President Sarkozy sent a series of messages to Moscow before even leaving for the Russian capital. Last week in Sofia, Bulgaria, he accused Russia of "complicating" world problems, adding that Moscow should understand that "big countries have not only rights, but responsibilities."

Mr. Sarkozy also sent implicit messages by hosting leaders from Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic in Paris. Those Eastern European countries have all had sought to increase their diplomatic distance from Moscow.

Another source of possible friction during the French leader's visit to Moscow is the status of Kosovo. France supports a bid by the province's ethnic-Albanian majority to declare independence from Serbia. Russia is against independence.

In an interview published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a Russian daily, the French leader drew attention to another potential disagreement - Iran's nuclear program. The Kremlin has opposed Western efforts to increase sanctions against Tehran to prevent development of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Mr. Sarkozy told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that a nuclear-armed Iran is not in French interests, adding that "all efforts must be made to avoid being limited by a catastrophic alternative of an Iranian bomb, or the bombing of Iran."

Russian political analyst Andrei Kortunov, the head of the Eurasia Fund in Moscow, says Mr. Sarkozy's position differs from his predecessors.

Sarkozy, says Kortunov, has announced a new French position on Iran, which actually coincides with Washington's position. Naturally, this cannot please Moscow.

Other points of contention could be the delivery of Russian gas to Western Europe, and human rights. Mr. Sarkozy has been critical of Russian military actions in Chechnya. Last month, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called slain Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya "a hero of the free press and an example of freedom and openness." After her murder in October 2006, President Putin downplayed her importance, saying she had little journalistic influence.

Economic issues are also expected to figure in the Sarkozy-Putin talks. The French energy company Total is helping Russia develop its huge Shtokman gas field, and the Russian Aeroflot Airline has ordered 22 A350 airliners from Airbus, a European manufacturer headquartered in Toulouse, France.

Mr. Sarkozy has also talked of development of a new airliner, the Superjet 100, as a joint French project with Russia's Sukhoi Design Bureau.

The French leader leaves Moscow on Wednesday.