Apparently French president Emmanuel Macron’s super-long handshake with President Trump was just a taste of things to come. Though he welcomed President Vladimir Putin to Versailles with a relatively brief and friendly handshake on Monday, Macron challenged the Russian president multiple times during their meeting, on everything from the Syrian civil war to Russian outlets spreading “lying propaganda” during the French presidential campaign.
France invited Putin to the opening of an exhibit on the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s trip to Paris just two weeks ago, shortly after Macron was elected. Putin had supported Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen, and received the nationalist at the Kremlin during her campaign. “That doesn’t mean that we tried to influence the results of the election. Besides, that is almost impossible,” Putin said through a translator on Monday.
After Macron’s emails were hacked on the eve of the election, cybersecurity firms blamed groups tied to Russia, and state-backed Russian news outlets spread rumors about Macron.
Following their nearly two-hour meeting, Putin told reporters that the cyberattack didn’t come up, saying, “The French president did not show any interest, and I even less.” However, Macron did seem interested when a Russian journalist asked him why his campaign had denied some reporters access.
“I have always had an exemplary relationship with foreign journalists, but they have to be journalists. Russia Today and Sputnik were organs of influence and propaganda that spread counterfeit truths about me,” he said, while standing next to Putin.
Macron went on to warn that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Putin, is a “red line” that would be met by “reprisals and immediate retaliation on the part of France.”
He also said he would remain “vigilant” on the rights of gay and transgender people in Chechnya, and the treatment of non-governmental organizations in Russia.
Putin seemed unfazed by Macron’s defiant tone, and the two leaders also highlighted areas where they agree, such as the need to eradicate terrorism in Syria and to restart talks with Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France on the situation in Ukraine.
“No essential topic can be addressed without dialogue with Russia,” Macron said. “It was a frank exchange, extremely direct … We share disagreements, but we also see how to construct a common action.”