Hollande tries to reassure Russia during Caucasus tour
French President François Hollande on Monday sought to reassure Russia that the European Union’s Eastern Partnership is not “directed against anyone” at the start of a three-day visit of former Soviet republics in the Caucasus.
Hollande is visiting Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, three countries which, like Ukraine, have sought closer ties with western Europe and, in Georgia’s case, found itself in armed conflict with Russia over breakaway territories.
In Azerbaijan on Monday Hollande insisted that the EU’s Eastern Partnership, which also targets Moldova and Belarus, is not anti-Russian.
“These are processes, these tours are not directed against anyone but aim to strengthen ties between Europe, France and partners who are now independent and concerned about their development,” he said.
But Hollande went on to declare the pro-Russian referendums in eastern Ukraine “null and void” and insist that the only that counts is the Ukrainian presidential election on 25 May.
Under pressure from Human Rights Watch to raise concerns over the Azerabaijani government’s rights record, Hollande said he had reminded the country’s President Ilham Aliyev of France’s “values” and “principles”, giving no direct answer to questions about the cases of activist Leyla Yunus, who was briefly detained in April and was due to meet Hollande during his visit, and journalist Rauf Mirkadyov, who is in jail for high treason, accused of spying for Armenia.
Aliyev told reporters that “nobody is arrested for political reasons” in his country.
Hollande also declared that France will do “all it can” to help Azerbaijan and Armenia, who went to war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s, can “live in peace”.
France is joint vice-president of the Minsk Group, set up by the OSCE to mediate between the two countries, along with Russia.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan is important for France's "energy security", Hollande said, and French companies signed several contracts, including one for the construction of Baku's metro and the sale of 50 freight trains to be built by French company Alstom.
Hollande was due to arrive in Armenia later on Monday.