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French press review 03 March 2014

The death of the French movie director Alain Resnais and the situation in Ukraine dominate the front page stories of French dailies. 

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While American cinema brings the curtain down on its Oscar celebrations, the French film world is in mourning.

This weekend saw the death of the movie director Alain Resnais at the age of 91.

Resnais will be remembered worldwide for films like "Hiroshima mon amour" and "Last Year in Marienbad," as well as for his self-effacing humour.

Otherwise, it's hard to get away from the situation in Ukraine.

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Le Figaro's main story attempts to analyse what they call "The logic of war," the story suggesting that Russian military requirements may lead to the partition of Ukraine, something greatly feared by the new authorities in Kiev.

Communist L'Humanité calls for "Talks, not tanks," a reference to the actions of military units controlled by Moscow in the strategically crucial Black Sea port of Sebastopol. For L'Humanité, this is a major crisis at the heart of Europe.

Catholic La Croix reports from the Ukrainian capital where fear and uncertainty are the dominant emotions. The army reserve has been called up, but nobody wants a war, not when the opponent is Russia.

The catholic daily points out that Europe has to bear a large part of the responsibility for the crisis, which was sparked by Brussels offering associate membership of the trading bloc to a country in which 60 per cent of the industrial effort is directed towards Russia.

And La Croix reminds us that the European margin for putting pressure on Vladimir Putin is limited . . . 40 per cent of the gas used to heat German homes and power German industry comes from Russia.

Tabloid Aujourd'hui en France puts the grim-jowelled Russian president on its front page, with a headline asking "How far will he go?"

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The popular daily explains that, apart from the naval importance of Sebastopol, there are the broader questions of Putin's dream of a Eurasian Union, a trading bloc to rival Europe, with roughly the dimensions of the old Soviet Union, and the potential for an independent Ukraine to become a member of the NATO military alliance.

Even if the Cold War has completely frozen over, Putin would never accept NATO troops, warplanes and listening posts on his western doorstep.

One piece of reassuring information is that Ukraine no longer possesses any Cold War nuclear weapons . . .  they were all decommissioned in 1993. But, in return for that disarmement, Ukraine's security was guaranteed by France, the US, Great Britain and, well, Russia.

While everyone is deeply concerned, no one really expects a shooting war. Not yet anyway. Military hostilities won't do anyone any good. But sanctions will have an effect, since they'll affect the Russian economy and harm the élite.

And Putin apparently puts a lot of value on his standing as a world statesman. He won't want to be left all alone at the next G8 meeting, scheduled for the Russian Black Sea port city of Sotchi in June.

Many commentators refer to the 2008 crisis in Georgia, or the situations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russia recognised the independence of those former Soviet satellites, and kindly sent in thousands of Russian troops to guarantee that very independence.

Europe growled and grumbled back then: it may make more noise this time, but the need for gas and peace will probably keep everyone on this side of outright armed conflict.

Le Monde reports that UK passports are soon likely to be available at an auction near you. According to the Advisory Committee on Immigration, one hundred passports should be sold each year to the highest bidder, with a minimum bid of three million euros.

There's been a lot of criticism of the move, by those who feel that nationality - which comes, sooner or later, to all passport holders - should not be an item of trade.

But the chairman of the committee which has made the lucrative suggestion says the United Kingdom currently gives passports away, so why not make a few bob along the way? That's the crisis for you, folks.

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