France–Russia relations

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France–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of France and Russia



France–Russia relations (Russian: Российско-французские отношения) date back to the early modern period.

In a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 25% of French people viewed Russia's influence positively, with 63% expressing a negative view, while 49% of Russians viewed French influence positively, with 10% expressing a negative view.[1]


France–Russia relations date back to early modern period, with sporadic contact even earlier, when both countries were ruled by absolute monarchies, the Kingdom of France (843–1792) and the Tsardom of Russia (1547–1721). Diplomatic ties go back at least to 1702 when France had an ambassador (Jean-Casimir Baluze) in Moscow.[2] Following Russia's victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, the foundation of Saint Petersburg as the new capital in 1712, and declaration of an empire in 1721, Russia became a major force in European affairs for the first time. The geographical separation between the two countries meant that their spheres of influence rarely overlapped. When involved in the same war, their troops rarely fought together as allies in or directly against each other as enemies on the same battlefields. However both were crucial states in the European balance of power. They were on opposite sides of the 1733–1738 War of the Polish Succession and were allies during the Seven Years' War of 1756 to 1763.

After the French Revolution Russia became a center of reactionary antagonism against the revolution, and Russia fought in the War of the Second Coalition. Once Napoleon Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoleon I) came to power in 1799, Russia remained hostile and fought in the Wars of the Third and Fourth Coalitions, which were victories for France and saw French power extend into Central Europe. This led to the establishment of a French-backed Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, which threatened Russia and caused tensions that led to the French invasion of Russia in 1812. This was major defeat for France and a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, leading to Bonaparte's removal and the Bourbon Restoration. Russia was part of the conservative Concert of Europe which sought to stifle revolution. Russia was again hostile when the Revolutions of 1848 broke out across Europe, bringing Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoleon III) to power in France. Napoleon III favoured a "policy of nationalities" (principe des nationalités) or support to national revolutions in multinational countries like Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, something fervently opposed by the Tsarist regime in Russia. France's challenges to Russia's influence led France to participate in the Crimean War, which saw French troops invade the Crimean peninsula.

Imperial Russia's foreign policy was hostile to republican France in the 19th century and very pro-German. The First and Second Three Emperor's Leagues of the 1870s and 1880s-which brought together Germany, Austria and Russia-had as its stated purpose the preservation of the monarchical order in Europe against the France of the Third Republic. After the defeat in the Franco-German war of 1870-71, French elites concluded that France could never hope to defeat Germany on its own, and the way to defeat the Reich would be with the help of another great power.[3] Otto von Bismarck drew the same conclusion and worked hard to keep France diplomatically isolated.[4] In 1890, the German government refused the Russian request to renew the three-year old Reinsurance treaty of 1887 for another three years. Since the Reich maintained its alliance with Austria-Hungary, and so this led to Germany supporting Austria in its recurring disputes with Russia over sphere of influences in the Balkans caused by the "Eastern Question"; namely what power would fill the power vacuum caused by the declining Ottoman Empire? Rejected by Germany, Russia cautiously began a policy of rapprochement with France starting in 1891 while the French for their part were very interested in the Russian offers of an alliance.[5] In August 1891, France and Russia signed a "consultative pact" where both nations agreed to consult each other if another power were to threaten the peace of Europe.[6] In 1893-94, French and Russian diplomats negotiated a defensive alliance meant to counter the growing power of Germany.[7] The alliance was intended to deter Germany from going to war by presenting the Reich with the threat of a two-front war; neither France or Russia could hope to defeat Germany on their own, but their combined power might, which in turn was meant to deter Berlin from going to war with either Paris or St. Petersburg.[5]

Under the terms of the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894 if Germany attacked France, then Russia would attack Germany and if Germany attacked Russia, France would attack Germany.[7] Furthermore, if Italy supported by Germany attacked France, then Russia would go to war with Germany and if Austria supported by Germany attacked Russia, France would go to war with Germany.[7] The alliance was so secret that the French people first learned of its existence only in 1897, and only then because it was realized in the Quai d'Orsay that keeping the Franco-Russian alliance secret was defeating its deterrent value.[7] After France was humiliated by Britain in the Fashoda Incident of 1898, the French wanted the alliance to become an anti-British alliance. In 1899, the Franco-Russian alliance was amended to deal with any power threatening the "equilibrium of forces in Europe" instead of just the "general peace" as before, and in 1900 the alliance was again amended to name Great Britain as explicitly the power that threatening the "equilibrium of forces in Europe".[8] To that end, it was agreed that if Britain should attack France, then Russia would invade India and the French provided a loan so that the Russians could start the construction of a railroad from Orenburg to Tashkent.[8] Tashkent in its turn would be the base from which the Russians would invade Afghanistan as the prelude to invading India. Despite their alliance, both Russia and France pursued their own interests. In 1908-09 during the Bosnia crisis, France declined to support Russia as a quarrel in the Balkans with Austria supported by Germany threatening war against Russia over Bosnia did not concern them.[7] The lack of French interest in supporting Russia during the Bosnia crisis was the nadir of Franco-Russian relations with the Emperor Nicholas II making no effort to hide his disgust at the lack of support from what was supposed to be his number one ally.[9] At the time, Nicholas seriously considered abrogating the alliance with France, and was only stopped by the lack of an alternative.[10] In 1911 during the Second Moroccan Crisis, the Russians paid the French back for their lack of support in the Bosnia crisis by refusing to support France when Germany threatened war against the French over Morocco.[7] Further linking France and Russia together was a common economic interests. Russia wished to industrialize, but lacked the capital to do so while the French were more than prepared to lend the necessary money to finance Russia's industrialisation.[7] By 1913, French investors had put 12 billion francs into Russian assets, making the French easily the largest investors in the Russian empire.[7] The industrialisation of the Russian Empire was largely the result of a massive influx of French capital into Russia.

In 1902, the Japanese Empire formed an alliance with the British Empire, which built up an Anglo-Japanese alliance. In response, the Russian Empire became allied with France in order to renege on agreements to reduce troop strength in Manchuria. On March 16, 1902, a mutual pact was signed between France and Russia. Japan later fought Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. France remained neutral in this conflict.

During World War I, France was allied with Great Britain and the Russian Empire. The alliance between the three countries formed the Triple Entente. However, after the Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in 1917, Russia left the war.

Tsar Peter the Great & young Louis XV

France's bilateral relations with the Soviet Union have experienced dramatic ups and downs due to Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and France's alliance in the NATO. Previous Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev made a visit to France in October 1985 in order to fix the strains in the Franco-Soviet relations. Nevertheless, France's bilateral activities continued with NATO, which furthermore strained the bilateral relations between France and the Soviet Union.

After the breakup of the USSR, bilateral relations between France and Russia were initially warm. On February 7, 1992 France signed a bilateral treaty, recognizing Russia as a successor of the USSR. As described by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the bilateral relations between France and Russia remain longstanding, and remain strong to this day.[11]

During the 2008 Georgia-Russia War, Sarkozy did not insist on territorial integrity of Georgia. Moreover, there were no French protests when Russia failed to obey Sarkozy's deal to withdraw from Georgia and recognizing governments in Georgia's territories.[12]

One of the major news has been the sale of Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia. The deal which was signed at 2010,[13] is the first major arms deal between Russia and the Western world since World War II.[14] The deal has been criticized for neglecting the security interests of Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Georgia.[12]

Before Syrian Civil War, Franco-Russian relations were generally improving. After years flailing behind Germany and Italy, France decided to copy them by emphasising the bilateral relationship. Ever since the financial crisis took hold, European powers have been forced to court emerging markets more and Moscow meanwhile wanted to diversify its own economy. President Hollande summed up the attitude towards what some said Putin's repressive array of new laws during his first official visit to Moscow in February 2013: "I do not have to judge, I do not have to evaluate".[15]

Since 2015: cooperation against ISIS

France and Russia were both attacked by the Middle-Eastern Islamist group ISIS. As a response, François Hollande and Vladimir Putin agreed on ordering their respective armed forces to "cooperate" with one another in the fight against the terrorist organization. The French President has called upon the international community to bring "together of all those who can realistically fight against this terrorist army in a large and unique coalition."[16] The French-Russian bombing cooperation is considered to be an "unprecedented" move, given that France is a member of NATO.[17]

The French press highlighted that ISIS is the first common ennemy that France and Russia fight shoulder to shoulder since WWII.[18] A Russian newspaper recalled that "WWII had forced the Western World and the Soviet Union to overcome their ideological differences", wondering whether ISIS would be the "new Hitler".[19]

French intelligence services in Russia

France recruited Vladimir Vetrov.

Russian intelligence services in France

During the Cold War, Russian active measures targeted French public opinion. Some indication of the success is given by polls that showed more French support to the Soviet Union than the United States.[20]

According to French counterintelligence sources in 2010, Russian espionage operations against France have reached levels not seen since the 1980s.[21]

Examples of operations

Examples of suspected or verified Soviet and Russian operations:

  • Agence France-Presse - The Mitrokhin archive identified six agents and two confidential contacts.[22]
  • Le Monde - The newspaper (codename VESTNIK, "messenger") was notable for spreading anti-American, pro-Soviet disinformation to the French population. The Mitrokhin archive contains two senior Le Monde journalists and several contributors.[22]
  • La Tribune des Nations - Effectively KGB-run.[23]
  • Various bogus biographies.[23]
  • Infiltration of Gaullist movement: "More than any other political movement, Gaullism was swarming with agents of influence of the obliging KGB, whom we never succeeded in keeping away from de Gaulle"[24]
  • Almost 15 million francs to De Gaulle's campaign, delivered by a businessman recruited by the KGB.[25]
  • KGB hired people close to François Mitterrand.[26]
  • Agents close to President Georges Pompidou were ordered to manipulate him with disinformation so he would become suspicious of the United States.[27]
  • Pierre Charles Pathé - KGB codename PECHERIN (later MASON) run one of Moscow's disinformation networks for 20 years until French counterintelligence decided to arrest him during a financial transaction.

See also

Notes and references

  1. 2013 World Service Poll BBC
  2. "Jan Kazimierz Baluze, czyli Polak ambasadorem Francji w Rosji".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Smith, Leonard; Audoin-Rouzeau, Steéphane, & Becker, Annette France and the Great War, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 page 11.
  4. Smith, Leonard; Audoin-Rouzeau, Steéphane, & Becker, Annette France the Great War, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 page 11.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Smith, Leonard; Audoin-Rouzeau, Steéphane, & Becker, Annette France and the Great War, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 pages 11-12.
  6. Heath, John Review of Les Engagements de l'Alliance Franco-Russe by Pierre Renouvin pages 412-413 from International Affairs, Volume 14, Issue 3, May 1935 page 412.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Smith, Leonard; Audoin-Rouzeau, Steéphane, & Becker, Annette France and the Great War, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 page 12.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Heath, John Review of Les Engagements de l'Alliance Franco-Russe by Pierre Renouvin pages 412-413 from International Affairs, Volume 14, Issue 3, May 1935 page 413.
  9. Tomaszewski, Fiona "Pomp, Circumstance, and Realpolitik: The Evolution of the Triple Entente of Russia, Great Britain, and France" pages 362-380 from Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Volume 47, Issue # 3, 1999 pages 369-370.
  10. Tomaszewski, Fiona "Pomp, Circumstance, and Realpolitik: The Evolution of the Triple Entente of Russia, Great Britain, and France" pages 362-380 from Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Volume 47, Issue # 3, 1999 page 370.
  11. French Ministry of foreign affairs - France and Russia
  12. 12.0 12.1 THE FOREIGN POLICY OF NICOLAS SARKOZY: The foreign policy of Nicolas Sarkozy: Not principles, opportunistic and amateurish. Marchel H. Van Herpen. February 2010
  13. "Russia to buy French warship by year end - federal agency". RIA Novosti. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. KRAMER, ANDREW (12 March 2010). "As Its Arms Makers Falter, Russia Buys Abroad". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "How do you solve a problem like Russia?". the Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Russia Open to Cooperation in Fight Against ISIS: French Foreign Minister, Newsweek
  17. Hollande in Moscow: A new era in Russian-French relations?, BBC News
  18. (French) Syrie : la France et la Russie s'allient contre Daech, Le Parisien
  19. (French) Daech, premier ennemi que la France et la Russie pourraient combattre ensemble depuis 1945, Le Huffington Post
  20. Andrew, Christopher, Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00312-5. p. 166
  21. French secret service fear Russian cathedral a spying front. The Telegraph. 2010-05-28
  22. 22.0 22.1 Andrew, Christopher, Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00312-5. p. 169-171
  23. 23.0 23.1 The Sword and the Shield (2000) p. 461-462
  24. The Sword and the Shield (2000) p. 463
  25. The Sword and the Shield (2000) p. 463
  26. The Sword and the Shield (2000) p. 464
  27. The Sword and the Shield (2000) p. 467-468

External links