France and Russia Revive Old Geopolitical Links

It uncovers the logic –- rooted in geography — of why the same follies befall countries over centuries, why generals invade along the same routes their ancient counterparts took before them and why alliances repeat themselves.

On Monday, we saw history repeating itself in Paris. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy came together to conclude several key military and business deals, and at least rhetorically seemed to be closer to the 1892 Franco-Russian Alliance than at any point since the First World War. To summarize a long list, Medvedev and Sarkozy agreed on the following points:

· that negotiations would begin on the sale of four 20,000-ton French Mistral-class fourth generation command and control helicopter carriers (which include significant command and control capabilities) worth $2.2 billion, drawing parallels to the 1891 French Fleet visit to St. Petersburg that broke the ice between the then-ideological enemies;

· to form a joint venture in train manufacturing –- harkening back to the 19th century French investments in Russian railway construction;

· to sell a share of Russian Nord Stream pipeline to French GDF Suez;

· to talk frankly about a “new security infrastructure between Europe and Russia,” apparently one that Russia has insisted take European security beyond the NATO alliance.

In short, Russia and France agreed that they can and will “solve European issues ourselves”, as Medvedev put it.

That Paris and Moscow are reviving their old geopolitical links is not surprising to STRATFOR. In the early 1890s, France was isolated by a brilliantly designed German diplomatic blockade. Berlin managed a complex alliance with both Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while London and Paris bickered over their colonial possessions. When German Emperor Wilhelm II decided to spurn his alliance with Russia, France saw its chance and moved in. Paris swallowed its pride –- forgot the part of le Marseillaise referring to “treacherous monarchs” –- and extended an alliance to Imperial Russia.

“Both the 1892 Franco-Russian alliance and today’s increasing cooperation between Moscow and Paris are based on geopolitical fundamentals.”

Both Russia and France pushed aside ideological resentment -– bred by French Republican anti-monarchist roots and something about Napoleon and his March on Moscow –- and realized that the key to their security lay in containing the rising German Empire sprawling between them. The key to making this alliance possible in the 19th century — as now — is that the two had no outstanding conflicts with one another, or geopolitical interests that crossed one another’s path. France is a Mediterranean power with a naval presence in the Atlantic that was and is paranoid about a German-dominated Europe, while Russia was and is as much of a land-based power (because most of its ports are either frozen over or too far away from the core) as any in the world with interests on the other side of Germany, in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Save for the aforementioned adventures by Napoleonic France –- which admittedly ran counter to most European countries’ interests — the two never crossed paths on a consistent basis.

France and Russia are therefore widely divergent in their geopolitical imperatives, like ships passing silently in the night. In recent days, they happen to have also found the impetus to share a closer understanding, if not the nascent stages of an alliance.

Paris –- currently in a formal (but tenuous) tag-team with Berlin to rule the European Union -– is nervous that the economic crisis in Greece and the eurozone as a whole is creating conditions that will allow Germany to define and entrench its dominance over Europe. It needs Berlin to save Europe from financial disaster, but understands that letting Germany design the recovery will entrench Berlin as both the economic and political capital of the continent. It needs options and is therefore looking to create an insurance policy, preferably one that surrounds Germany the way it did in the 19th century.

Moscow, on the other hand, wants to diversify its influence from only Germany — which has thus far been Moscow’s most accommodating European power — to include more European powers in its Rolodex. Russia knows that Germany is powerful and that Russian levers on Germany –- in terms of natural gas supplies -– are not enough to keep a resurgent Berlin in line forever, especially as Berlin looks to diversify its energy resources.

Furthermore, Moscow understands that the United States is on the front end of breaking free from its imbroglio in the Middle East. Already, American forces are at their lowest level in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Moscow hopes that an understanding with France on energy, military and perhaps strategic matters makes it difficult for the United States to reflexively count on Europe to counter Russia’s sphere of influence in the Caucuses and Central Europe.

France is a long way from breaking from its NATO alliance or relationship with Berlin, and Moscow is far from replacing Germany as its number one, go-to European friend. But we note that both the 1892 Franco-Russian alliance and the current, increasing cooperation between Moscow and Paris are based on geopolitical fundamentals. In this case, these two European powers find very few points of contention due to divergent geographies that in due time naturally draw France and Russia together.


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