All smiles: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy greet each other. Photo: AP
Novo-Ogaryovo, Russia: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy came under fire on Thursday for making an unofficial visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence near Moscow, where both men expressed regret for disagreements between their countries.
Paris has been highly critical of Russia’s military intervention in Syria and French President Francois Hollande has said he sees no role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a future political transition.
Mr Sarkozy, who heads the conservative The Republicans party and is widely expected to make another run for the presidency in 2017, was slammed by the socialist government over the visit.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy waits for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP
French Junior Minister for Higher Education and Research Thierry Mandon said Mr Sarkozy had no business short-circuiting French foreign policy.
“Diplomacy is complicated, he is like a dog in a bowling alley in this affair,” he said on France 2 television.
The vice-president of the French Parliament’s France-Russia friendship group, green party member Francois Michel-Lambert, said Mr Sarkozy’s “parallel diplomacy” was damaging for the country.
“It is amazing that the former head of state does not have a sense of statesmanship,” he said.
Russian warplanes have bombed some rebel groups that France and its Western allies are trying to help in their struggle against Mr Assad.
On his visit, Mr Putin told Mr Sarkozy he was pleased to see him.
“It’s been a long time since we last saw each other,” Mr Putin said. “A whole year. In that time there have been a lot of events in Europe, in the world, and in our bilateral relations.”
Mr Sarkozy said that despite the disagreements between France and Russia, he and Mr Putin had always been able to find common ground. “We need to get out of this period of confrontation that we are currently experiencing,” he said.
Former conservative minister Xavier Bertrand, who has declared his candidacy for the 2017 presidential election, defended Mr Sarkozy’s visit, saying he was free to meet who he wanted.
“It is about time we stop this cold war with Russia that has been going on for months and months,” he said on iTELE television.