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French press review 18 March 2014

Pride of place this morning to Albert Einstein, whose relativity theory provided the basis for the Big Bang theory, and the scepticism about the ultimate ambitions of Vladimir Putin dominate the front pages of French dailies.

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The old chap who invented relativity is back in the news and on the front page of Le Figaro, because the wonderfully named Bicep 2 telescope has added muscle to one of the key bits of his virtually incomprehensible theory about the beginning of everything.

Basically, Bicep has got a grip on something called gravitational waves, which date from the first few fractions of a second after the universe started expanding. Einstein predicted the existence of such waves almost a century ago, and there they are, ripples in the space-time fabric from a stage when the entire universe was no bigger than a peanut.

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The latest revelation is based on the minute examination of what scientists call "fossil light," the left-over blast of energy from the initial explosion, and remains to be confirmed. Certain specialists are sceptical.

There's a certain amount of scepticism, too, about the ultimate ambitions of Vladimir Putin. Catholic La Croix wonders just what the top geezer in the Kremlin is after, as Europe tries to sanction the Crimea back out of Russia.

Le Monde wonders how far the Russian president will go in pursuit of his dream of an eastern trading bloc to rival the European Union.

The weekend referendum which saw 96 per cent of the population of the Crimean Peninsula vote in favour of a return to Russian rule has at least resolved the problem of where to house the Russian Black Sea fleet, but it does leave Putin facing a certain amount of disapproval from the chattering classes in Brussels.

Europe and the United States are now faced with trying to turn Putin's victory into a draw. They don't have a military option, says Le Monde, so the Western powers will have to decide between an action under international law, targeting rich members of the Russian elite or starting a potentially murderous trade war with Moscow.

The value of the Russian rouble is currently at its lowest-ever level relative to the dollar and substantial numbers of rich rats are said to be fleeing Moscow, sacks of cash on their furry little backs.

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But Russia does control a huge part of the gas supplied to Europe, so the wrestling will be a heavyweight affair, with nastiness assured for all combatants.

La Croix points to the possibility that this war of words over the unity of Ukraine could have an impact on the real war in Syria, where Russia continues to support the little-loved regime of Bachar al-Assad.

Washington and Moscow have been working quietly towards some sort of common ground and are of course cofinancing the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. All that could be lost in the dispute over the Crimea.

And Russia is also part of the international group working to sort out the Iranian nuclear problem. The trouble in Kiev could well find an echo in far-away Teheran.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Communist L'Humanité is scandalised to report that 16 of the top 40 French companies, with a total of 28 billion in profits paid out to shareholders last year, still benefitted to the tune of two billion euros in tax relief under the government's research and competitiveness scheme.

And then there's the row between the Socialists and their governing allies, the Greens. Anne Hidalgo, Socialist candidate in the election for Paris mayor next Sunday, has been accusing the ecologists of supporting an initiative last year to buy 320 diesel-engined buses for the French capital. Said capital yesterday saw traffic restrictions imposed in an effort to get the air closer to breathable levels, with fine particles from diesel engines among the chief polluters. Green politicians with red faces.

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