For people who follow French politics, France's entry into NATO was a frank change of politics. France had previously maintained an independent interest in the Middle East and tended to align away from Israel. France's involvement in recent NATO 'interventions' in Syria seemed uncharacteristically naive. In this stand-out interview, Yvan Blot, a former Gaullist parliamentarian, and closely associated with Sarkosy, when President, says that he did not agree with joining NATO. He says that French conservatives tend to be friends with Russia, in part because of business interests, and that socialist governments tend to have strained relations with Russia, since Mitterand. This interview is one of those where the person interviewed has a lot of experience and an unusually wide and historical perspective. This video transcript was first published on Sophie & Co on RT on 8 Mar, 2016 .
Russia's military pullout out of Syria came as a surprise to most Western nations. That, and a successful though fragile ceasefire inside Syria between Assad and the rebels, have shifted the balance on the global chessboard. Europe is struggling with the refugee flow, desperate enough to negotiate a blackmail-style deal with Turkey. As people are growing tired of the unpopular measures taken by Brussels, the upcoming elections in France, the EU's major player, may change the stakes in diplomacy as well. In this rapidly changing situation will the attitude towards Russia change? Does the West even need to carry out such a policy? And what role is NATO playing in the rift between Russia and the nations of Europe? We ask a prominent French politician, close friend of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Yvan Blot is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevarnadze: Yvan Blot, French scholar and politician, close to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, author of “Putin’s Russia”, welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us, sir.
Yvan Blot: Thank you for inviting me.
SS: So, from the latest, Russian troops are being pulled out of Syria, so we have the peace talks that are somewhat in progress right now. Truce is setting on the battlefield - do you think that Russian withdrawal, this move to pull out troops, will actually help the peace process, help de-escalate the situation, or will those who don’t want to find a compromise be emboldened by this move?
YB: It was a surprize in France to hear that Russian troops are leaving Syria, but I think it’s a good thing for the peace process, naturally.
YB: It shows clearly that big powers want to seize the war and because Russia attacked the Islamist movement in Syria, some people would think that Russia wants to be in the East, and would invade, like America invaded Iraq.
SS: Make it it’s sphere of influence, basically.
YB: So we have a proof it’s not the case.
SS: How do you think the West will react to Russia’s move? Will West’s attitude towards Russia change after the withdrawal of the troops.
YB: I think, probably, Mr. Obama was informed about this decision, President Putin’s decision, so I think, normally, the West would have a good reaction, because if Washington agrees, the rest of the Western countries will agree, because America is the leader of the Western coalition in Syria.
SS: French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, proclaimed that France is actually supporting the end of anti-Russian sanctions, but all of the EU members have to be OK with that. Except France we have Hungary, we have Greece, we have Italy who do not want to extend, to renew the sanctions. What do you think will happen? Will their voices be heard? Is it possible to actually go against the EU will and not renew the sanctions individually?
YB: It’s difficult to say. I know that business circles in France are against the sanctions, they want to get rid of the sanctions, and there’s a big discussion, private discussion, between the government and the business circles. I think, Mr. Hollande is not really in favor of sanctions, but he has to take into account the American position, naturally, and for that reason, it’s difficult to say what he will do, because if for him the American pressure is too strong, he will say: “We continue the sanctions”.
SS: So it’s really more the American pressure than the fact that all EU members have to be OK with not renewing the sanctions?
YB: It’s another reason, I would say. Nothing forbids France to get rid of the sanctions if France wanted to. I think, with somebody with character, as was General De Gaulle, we would stop the sanctions, whatever the consequences. Our President is an intelligent man, but I’m not sure he wants to have these difficult relations with Washington, so I’m not sure France will be very independent in that…
SS: You often talk about America’s influence over Europe, and you have mentioned that these are American sanctions more than European sanctions… I mean, you really believe that America’s influence over Europe is so big that it can actually pressure Europe into imposing sanctions on Russia?
YB: Yes, I have examples. For instance, we have a big bank, BNP Paribas, who had to pay enormous sums to the American Treasury because they made business with Iran, for instance. I know it was the same for Mistral, for instance. The American government told the French government, in private, naturally, that if we give Mistrals, these warships, to Russia, the sum that bank, BNP Paribas, must pay will be much higher and, at the same time, they say that American judges are completely independent. I don’t think this is the case. There are contacts between the judges and the American government. I have some experience with this. Western countries always say that their judges are completely independent, but it’s not the case if it is a question which touches national interests. For little private conflicts the judges are independent, but it’s linked with politics, the government says “I hope you will give good sanctions against this bank”, for instance.
SS: So you think if Europe, on a larger scale, was to reset relations with Russia, then America will actually torpedo it or sabotage it?
YB: The strategy of America was clearly explained in the book by Mr.Brzezinski, “The Big Chessboard”. In this book, Mr.Brzezinski says: “The problem of America is the competition with Eurasia.” Eurasia - that is to say Europe, Russia and China and India, perhaps - and he says: “If all these countries are against us, it’s going to be terrible for us, we are not the first power in the world, so we have to divide Eurasia, to colonize Western Europe, to survey China and Russia. For us it makes really a problem, and the best thing would be to have weaker Russia and to organize conflict with Ukraine”. It was written 10 years ago, and now you see the implementation of this strategy. I think it is an American strategy.
SS: But I want to talk about Europe’s position - why do you think it’s stuck in this choice between partnership with Russia and partnership with NATO. It seems like it’s one or the other - why? Why is it stuck in this position?
YB: First, NATO has no reason to survive, because NATO was created, in the beginning, to fight against communism and against Soviet Union. There’s no longer a Soviet Union. It would have been logical to destroy NATO and to create a new order for defence and security issues, new organisation, probably, and probably without the U.S.. It was not the case, naturally, and major part of our political leaders have strong personal links with American government, it’s a fact.
SS: You think there’s no reason for NATO to survive, you’ve also said that America’s influence on Europe is in large done through NATO - now, former French PM Dominique de Villepin.
has proposed, once again, pulling France out of the NATO military command structure. Do you think it’s a good idea, do you think France should pull out? Is it even possible?
YB: I think he’s right. I know him very personally, I think he’s right. It is technically completely possible, because we have a big industry of armaments, we have nuclear forces, so France can be independent.
SS: So why are you with NATO then? Is it just, like, symbolic, is it a question of French pride and prestige?
YB: It was a discussion between me and President Sarkozy about this, because I didn’t agree with him. It was Sarkozy who…
SS: Returned France to NATO.
YB: And he said: “We are in the same family”, his argument was “the same family, we have the same values”. Perhaps we have the same values, but since, perhaps, 10 years, all French presidents ask Americans to have one commander-in-chief of NATO. There are three staffs in NATO: for North of Europe, for Center of Europe and for South. France wanted to have the general-in-chief of the South, and the American said “No, no, no”. They said “No” to Mitterrand, they said “No” to Chirac, and they said “No” to Sarkozy. But, in spite of this Sarkozy said that it doesn’t matter, “we will integrate into it”, but I’m not sure it was a good idea.
SS: So, if France is part of the same family, as the NATO members, then why did the president Francois Hollande, after the horrible terrorist attacks, actually called on its fellow EU allies to help fight terrorism, help France, and not the NATO members?
YB: Politically, the EU is more important in France than the NATO. We don’t speak very much about NATO. But EU, yes, because it’s the same currency, it’s same economic policy, and so on. For that reason Mr. Hollande wants always to have good relations with the members of the EU, but in the future, I don’t know what we will have because it’s possible - it’s not sure, but it’s possible - that the UK leaves the EU.
SS: So, you have studied Russian for many years, you’ve wrote a book that’s called “Putin’s Russia”. It decries a lot of myths about Putin, it also argues against looking at Russia as if it was still a Soviet Union. Are there are lot of people in the French establishment who share your view on Russia?
YB: There are part of the establishment.
SS: What’s the ratio?
YB: Partly, it’s a question of generation. Older people in France very often think that Russia is always a Soviet Union, older people. But with younger people, it’s not the case at all. So, younger people in general are much more in favor of cooperation with Russia, even within the government, or within the Parliament, and this situation, I think, it’s improving for the future cooperation between France and Russia.
SS: But, French government mostly consists of young people, so you would think that they don’t really remember the Soviet Union, yet they are for the sanctions and they still decry Putin as a dictator…
YB: Yes, the French government is socialist, you know. It is a socialist tradition in France to have bad relations with Russia, I must say, because after the WWII, the Americans gave a lot of money to socialist party to fight against the Communist Party in France. For that reason, Socialist party had always very good links with America. Especially now, they have very good links with ms. Clinton, for instance. Ms. Clinton said once, I think she didn’t want to say this, but she said it to Juppe, “Mr. President Juppe” - but a journalist told her: “But he’s not President!” - he was PM, but he wasn’t a President - “Oh yes, I am sorry, I made a mistake” - but in fact, she would like to have Mr. Juppe as partner for future.
SS: We’ll talk about the Presidential elections that are coming up. So you have part of French establishment that is very anti-Russian, and you have part of it that’s very pro-Russian.
YB: Especially, business circles.
SS: So which side will prevail?
YB: In the short run, it’s, perhaps, the anti-Russians who are rather mainstream, especially in the media, but I think in the longer run, it would be completely different. You have only to look at the geography - it’s very difficult for Western Europe not to have a special links with Russia, because it’s the same continent, in fact. So, I think it’s artificial - this fight against Russia. In fact, the majority of people who come from France to Russia can see it’s not a dictatorship. I was, in the past, in the Soviet Union, and in my hotel, I could read some Russian papers in English - there was no criticism against Mr. Brezhnev, for instance, or of the Soviet government. But now you can read articles against Mr. Putin - so it’s very clear, there’s more freedom than before.
SS: So you have Presidential election coming up, right around the corner. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Russia, you’re close to him, I believe you’re his friend. If his party wins the vote, do you think there will be a rapprochement between Russia and France?
YB: I’m sure.
YB: Sarkozy always told me he wanted to have good relations with Mr. Putin. He has, I think personal good relations, and he thinks it’s very necessary, because Sarkozy is linked with business circles very much, much more than the socialists, and he wants to have better relations with Russia because they want to expand trade with Russia in every sectors of the economy. I think with Sarkozy the relations would be better, I’m sure, and even if we would have some tensions with the U.S.. We had tensions already in the past, with Sarkozy, when he went to mingle with Georgian war, for instance, Washington was not very happy about this. But he did it.
SS: Do you think he will run for Presidency again? What do you think? In your personal opinion?
YB: I think so, except, if he has such bad polls, he could perhaps say: “It’s over, it’s not possible”, but except in that extreme situation - we cannot know exactly the future so much early - I think he will be a candidate. He wants to be a candidate.
SS: But do you think the French are ready to choose again between Hollande and Sarkozy?
YB: Frankly, I’m not sure, because part of the French people would prefer to have new personalities, probably.
SS: It’s been 2 years since the Crimean referendum, pro-Russian referendum, and you have said that it’s impossible to reverse the Crimean situation. The EU however, is saying that the control over the peninsula needs to be given back to Ukraine. President Poroshenko is ordering Ukraine’s military to focus on Crimea, you have Kiev that is getting military aid from the U.S. - I mean, it does seem like the West cannot come to terms with that. Do you think that'll ever happen? When?
YB: I think Crimea will be Russian in the future. It’s not possible to change that. In France, we are not in a good place to think against it, because we made exactly the same with Mayotte in Africa, you know it’s some islands which form a Comorrean state and when they got their independence, one island said “We want to be French”, and this island is French. For that reason, France was condemned by the UNGA, we were condemned by the African Assembly of Nations, and it doesn’t change anything. We had no sanctions, because we are friends with the U.S.
SS: But we have sanctions, so if the Crimean situation is irreversible, and the sanctions are linked to the Crimean situation, does that mean that the sanctions against Russia are here to stay forever?
YB: It is a U.S. position now, with President Obama, but you cannot see future. I’m not sure, for instance, Mr. Trump, I think, perhaps, he would lift the sanctions, I’m not sure that he’s in favor of the sanctions. He’s like everybody, in general, in business circles - they don’t like sanctions. They think politicians mingling with economics is not a good thing, it’s better to be separated. With ms. Clinton, perhaps, we would have the same sanctions. So we have to wait for the American elections.
SS: Maybe, even harsher sanctions with ms. Clinton. So, let’s talk about the EU situation. The EU isn’t aligned in its relations with Russia, it has the migrant crisis, there’s the financial problem in the Eurozone, there’s terrorism problem - a serious problem. So, if countries weren’t obliged to follow one common EU policy, do you think they would be able to deal with these issues better, individually?
YB: I’m not sure. For instance a lot of people say because we are in the EU we could have more opportunity for economic growth, but it’s not in fact the case. Switzerland or Norway are not in the EU, and their economy is much better. I’m not sure the Euro, for instance, is a good thing for French economy. Probably, it’s a good thing for German economy, but we have not the same competitiveness to have the same money - I’m not sure it’s a good idea. A lot of economists, professors of economics - I am the professor of economics - we think the Euro is not a good idea, probably, a symbolic or a political idea, but from an economic point of view, it’s probably a mistake.
SS: So Britain is planning to have a referendum this summer on the EU exit, and according to the survey that’s been conducted by the university of Edinburgh, majority of France wants to have the same referendum. What do you think? Could the British experience set an example to follow for other members?
YB: Probably. It’s a reason for why a Commission in Brussels is a bit frightened of this situation, because if the UK leaves European Union, other countries could do the same and could be encouraged to make the same move. Perhaps, the Scandinavian countries who are very linked with the UK, perhaps, Czech Republic…
SS: Well, you have France, you have Sweden, Spain, Germany - they all want EU membership referendum. I’m not saying that they want to leave the EU, but they want to have the right to vote for it. Do you think they should be able?
YB: The people want to be consulted on this sort of issue, and one of the big problems with the EU is that it is not democratic at all. It was built not to be democratic. The power in Brussels is not in the hands of the Council of ministers and is not in the Parliament. I was for 10 years in the EU Parliament, I can tell you that all the power, in fact, is in the Commission. It’s a government of civil servants, who have no responsibility towards different countries, and they do what they want, and for that reason, more and more people are against this sort of technician government, which is not a democratic government. I think it was a mistake at the beginning of the European Union, to create this super-Comission above all. So, it doesn’t mean we have to get rid completely with the EU, but perhaps it is necessary to re-write the treaty to suppress this Commission in Brussels, it was a bad idea. It would be Europe, naturally, if we did that. Why not?
SS: So, you have said that you are worried about the massive flow of refugees into Europe, but do you feel like, maybe, Europe has a moral obligation or responsibility to accommodate these refugees from the Middle East. I mean, are European policies partly to blame for wars that are causing this mass exodus? I mean, intervention in Libya produced a failed state right on border of Europe, you know.
YB: You are right. I think there are some governments that have a responsibility because of the disorder they created in the MidEast, and it was one of the causes of the movement of refugees towards Europe. But the public opinion is really against it, and so, if you are in democracy, you have to take into account the opinion of the people. I think it’s necessary to have more peace, naturally, in the Middle East - that’s one of the questions, but otherwise, it’s necessary, really, to control our borders which is not the case, because we have created this Schengen area, and the Schengen area is not very well protected against illegal immigrants, and that’s really a problem. You must add to this problem the fact that among the refugees, it’s possible that you have some terrorists. Our Secret Service is persuaded it is the case, I must say.
SS: Yvan Blot, thank you very much for this interesting interview. We were talking to Yvan Blot, French politician, who used to sit in the French and the European Parliament's, past terrorism advisor to the French government, author of “Putin’s Russia”, talking about seemingly dead end of West’s relations with Russia and the future of Europe. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo, I will see you next time.