PARIS – What is the significance of France’s recent sale of four powerful Mistral-class warships to Russia? Was it business as usual or an irresponsible move contributing to a dangerous shift in the balance of power in the Baltic and Black Seas?
It is sometimes said that Germany has become a “second France” in its “selfish” approach to the European Union. But is France really on its way to becoming a “second Germany”? If Germany is Russia’s main economic partner, why should not France be its principal strategic partner?
France does not share Germany’s natural closeness to Russia – a relationship based on both geography and history. But France does have a long tradition of a “special” bilateral relationship with Russia – marked by a deep cultural dimension – that somehow transcended the Cold War.
General Charles de Gaulle once described himself as a “bad weather friend” of the United States, which implied that in “better weather” he could go his own way, leave NATO’s integrated military command, and behave as some kind of bridge between East and West. De Gaulle’s policy of detente towards the Soviet Union, coming years before Nixon and Kissinger tried it, personified France’s desire to “exist” diplomatically on its own and to maximize its room for maneuver with the US.