Russian President Vladimir Putin made a brief stop in France Tuesday for talks with his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac. The visit reflects warming relations between Russia and European Union countries.
The Russian and French leaders held talks on the Middle East conflict, the war against terrorism, and improving political, financial and security relations between Russia and Western Europe. During a press conference preceding a working dinner, both President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin said they saw eye to eye on many issues.
Indeed, President Chirac said he hoped Russia would eventually play a greater role in the NATO alliance.
Mr. Chirac said despite reservations by some NATO partners, notably the United States, France would continue pressing for a special accord that would bring Russia closer to the 19 member alliance.
For his part, Mr. Putin expressed hope that closer political ties between France and Russia could be matched by economic ones.
Mr. Putin said he would like French financial investments in Russia to increase, noting that investments by Poland and Germany were much greater.
But there were also areas in which the two leaders were clearly not in full agreement. That included the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, which Russia continues to insist is an internal matter. Indeed, Mr. Putin's trip to France was denounced by members of the Greens Party and by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, because of reported human rights abuses by Russian fighters in Chechnya.
Nonetheless, Mr. Putin's visit marks a growing rapprochement between Russia and Western European countries. In December, Mr. Putin met with British and German leaders. Both President Chirac and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin paid separate visits to Russia last year.