This year the people of France mark a memorable date in their nation’s history: 130 years since the birth of General Charles de Gaulle.
For Russians, the General’s name is inseparable from our shared Victory in the Second World War 75 years ago. In June 1940, Charles de Gaulle called on the people of France to fight fascism in order to liberate his country and ensure its national independence. “Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished,” he said. To a great extent, it is thanks to his efforts that France became a proactive ally in fighting Hitler’s Germany.
It was the General who in July 1941 came up with the initiative to establish direct ties between Free France and the Soviet Union in the name of fighting a common enemy. Moscow in turn was among the first to recognise and establish official relations with the French National Committee founded by Charles de Gaulle in exile.
We treasure the memory of the Soviet-French brotherhood in arms, and the feats of Normandy-Neman pilots who fought against Nazi air forces on the eastern front. We also praise France for honouring the memory of our compatriots who joined the Resistance movement in the years of the Second World War.
Charles de Gaulle has always strongly advocated building mutually respectful relations between our countries. In 1944 he undertook a lengthy journey through Tehran and Baku in order to reach the Soviet Union. The General’s hopes for securing Soviet support were realised with the signing in December 1944 of a 20-year Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Aid between the USSR and France. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden referred to this historical document by saying that the restoration of friendship between Russia and France effectively restores and elevates to state policy the national grandeur of France and Russia. The Soviet leaders were also visionary in their assessment of the treaty: “All attempts to destroy the new emerging union should be averted for the sake of future generations.” However, the treaty failed to live up to its potential after Charles de Gaulle resigned in 1946 and the Cold War started.
When the General returned into French politics in 1958, he continued to promote closer relations with the Soviet Union, viewing their steady development as more than just a way to secure the wellbeing of the two nations but also as an essential factor in easing international tensions and promoting regional and global stability.
Charles de Gaulle proposed the concept of Greater Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals that would be peaceful, free from dividing lines and opposing blocks. In 1966, the General undertook a historic visit to the USSR that gave a powerful impetus to bilateral cooperation in all spheres, including politics, economy, culture and space. During his visit, the General spoke at length about the importance of accord and cooperation “across Europe so that it can ensure its security.” He dreamed of our ancient continent ending division and uniting itself to recover its role in ensuring equilibrium, progress and peace of the entire world.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that when the past bipolar standoff came to an end in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the world got a historical chance to fulfil these noble intentions. For its part, Russia went to great lengths to ensure that Europe, with its history of two world wars and a Cold War, embarked on the path to prosperity, mutually beneficial partnership, peaceful and sustainable development for the benefit of the present and future generations. Moscow consistently advocated consolidating the unifying role of pan-European institutions such as the OSCE. It was our country that proposed signing the European Security Treaty and engaging in joint efforts to form a shared space of peace, stability and broad economic and humanitarian cooperation from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Unfortunately the policy preached by those who made a short-sighted choice of NATO-centricity, geopolitical zero-sum games and a master-slave logic, having assumed the role of ruling the destinies of humankind, prevailed within Western society. Suffice to recall the bombing of Yugoslavia, the eastward expansion of the North-Atlantic Alliance despite the guarantees that had been given to the Soviet leadership, as well as the support by a number of European capitals of an anti-constitutional government coup in Ukraine and the subsequent imposition of unilateral sanctions against our country.
Where did all this take us? The Euro-Atlantic is facing a large-scale crisis of confidence. A truly unified Europe has not been built. Russia and the European Union have not made use of their far-reaching potential for cooperation, inflicting losses on European businesses, including French companies. I strongly believe that the current scenario is a far cry from what Charles de Gaulle stood for, since he understood all too well how counterproductive and hopeless a Europe without Russia would be.
At the same time, we have no doubt that the continent we share is still capable of forming an architecture of peace and stability. In the current conditions, combining the potentials of various integration projects underway across the vast Eurasian space from Lisbon to Jakarta would be the most effective way to deliver on this objective. This is what the renowned initiative by President Vladimir Putin to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership is all about: it would outline a wide-reaching contour of innovation taking into consideration the interests of all states without exception, including those that are part of various multilateral frameworks and those that are not. Incidentally, this vision has started to materialise with the alignment of the Eurasian Economic Union with China’s Belt and Road initiative. I think that our European partners will only benefit from joining these common efforts. This would not only make our economies more competitive, but will also lay the foundation for a pan-continental system of equal and indivisible security.
In today’s international relations with the ongoing emergence of a new, more equitable and democratic multipolar international order, we need strategic wisdom while rejecting the philosophy of hegemony and domination, “sanitary barriers” and iron curtains. We need to rebuild our common European home if we want all people within it to live in peace and prosperity, so that their security does not depend on questionable geopolitical prescriptions from beyond the ocean.
We strongly believe that a broad partnership between Moscow and Paris would improve the situation across Europe and the globe, considering that the two countries as permanent members of the UN Security Council share special responsibility for maintaining international peace. We welcome the initiative by President Emmanuel Macron for creating a system of European security that would not be designed to counterbalance Russia but would be built with our participation. At the end of the day, what actually counts is to move from the right words to making practical steps to reshape the political mindset based on the principles of international law and collective leadership. For its part, Russia reaffirms its unwavering commitment to engaging in good faith equitable cooperation along these lines.