Meeting between French and Russian defense ministers | Versions that diverge

(Paris) French Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu spoke on the telephone on Wednesday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Choïgu, a first since October 2022, the two capitals of which offered openly divergent reports in the evening.

This exchange, requested by Paris on the issue of counter-terrorism, comes shortly after the attack on March 22 near Moscow (at least 144 dead and 360 injured), claimed by the Islamic State (IS) organization.

Dissensions over the nature of the discussions immediately arose in the communiqués from the two capitals, which also mentioned the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday evening that the two countries had said they were “ready to dialogue” regarding the conflict in Ukraine. “The starting point could be the ‘Istanbul Peace Initiative,’” he added.


Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

Comments, a priori unexpected on the part of France, immediately denied by Paris.

The Russian minister clearly affirmed “being ready to resume dialogue on Ukraine”, but “France has neither accepted nor proposed anything” on this subject, the French minister’s entourage told AFP .

Mr. Lecornu had earlier indicated in a press release that he had “unreservedly condemned the war of aggression that Russia has launched in Ukraine” during this call.

Russian information attacks seem to be increasing against France while Paris recently concluded a bilateral security agreement with Kyiv, with Moscow denouncing Paris’ “increasing involvement” in the conflict.

Concerning the Moscow attack, the positions of the two countries also seemed marked on Wednesday by opposing readings of the events.

Mr. Lecornu “recalled France’s availability” for “increased exchanges” with Russia in the fight against “terrorism”, according to the press release from his ministry.

He also insisted on the fact that France “did not have any information allowing a link between this attack and Ukraine” and asked Moscow to “stop any exploitation”, during a conversation of ‘an hour with Mr. Choïgou.

Response from Moscow: “the Kyiv regime does nothing without the approval of its Western supervisors. We hope that, in this case, the French secret services are not behind this.”

Rare maintenance

On March 22, armed men entered a concert hall before opening fire on the crowd and setting the building on fire.

The Kremlin admitted that “radical Islamists” had been behind the attack, while denouncing Ukrainian involvement. Twelve suspects were arrested, including the four alleged attackers, from Tajikistan.

The branch of IS suspected of having been behind the attack in the suburbs of the Russian capital “had carried out several attempts in recent months” on French “soil”, Emmanuel Macron declared shortly after.

“We have offered the Russian services, as well as our partners in the region, increased cooperation,” said the French president. The United States, for its part, claimed to have warned the Russian authorities that an attack was being prepared.

This French proposal for exchanges with Moscow on counter-terrorism issues comes at a time when France is once again on maximum alert in the face of the risk of attack since the attack near Moscow and four months before the Olympic Games on its ground.

It has been hit by around twenty attacks since 2015, the majority instigated or inspired by ISIS, which left some 300 dead.

Wednesday’s meeting between the two ministers is in itself important, as high-level discussions have been rare between the Western camp allied to Kyiv and Russia since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last spoke on the phone in April 2023, with Sergei Shoigu having spoken with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin the previous month.

Russia regularly sends Mr. Lavrov to G20 meetings, including in February this year, but there is no indication that he has spoken directly with Western officials.


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