Continuity and change in France's policies towards Russia: a milieu goals explanation
GB : Cambridge University Press
1349 - 1369 p.
Foreign policy, Ukraine crisis, International relations
European Union member states have been notoriously divided in their attitudes towards Russia. These national positions have, however, too often been essentialized, thereby obfuscating nuances and foregoing the possibility to discern or explain change. Considering its strong political and economic links with Russia, its past positions and the fact that Ukraine had never registered prominently on its foreign policy radar, France's reaction to the Ukraine crisis has been firmer and more active than most could have forecast. This article examines the content, determinants and evolutions of France's policies towards Russia before, during and beyond the crisis. Contrary to traditional explanations, which tend to emphasize historic, cultural, economic or domestic political factors, I argue that these policies have been mainly—and continuously—driven by France's broader milieu goals in international and European politics. These considerations help to account for the policy shift revealed during the Ukraine crisis. Following the emergence of Russia as a central actor in Syria and the correlated politicization of the Russia question in the 2017 French presidential election, the Macron administration has adopted a new diplomatic approach towards Moscow. Yet a different policy direction has not emerged, as the administration has not fundamentally put into question the previously established assessment of how Russia's current foreign policy collides with France's milieu goals.