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French press review 13 February 2015

Naturally, the front pages of most of this morning's French papers are devoted to events in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where French President François Hollande played a leading role in efforts to bring an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The watchword is cautious optimism.


Right-wing Le Figaro tells readers that Hollande and German leader Angela Merkel have obtained "a fragile peace" from Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Minsk 2, between hope and doubt," is the papers succinct and accurate observation.

After a long night of intense negotations between Russia; Ukraine, France and Germany the new Minsk agreement provides for a ceasefire and a demilitarised zone between separatist rebels and government forces.

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Lest we forget, there was an earlier agreement, in September last year, also hammered out in Minsk, which collapsed almost before the ink was dry.

Le Figaro's front page editorial reminds us of the difference between words and actions. Ukraine's date with destiny is midnight on Saturday - the time agreed between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to halt the fighting, withdraw artillery and heavy weapons and begin a political dialogue with pro-Russian separatists. Like the polticians, the paper is cautious. The accord is "a glimmer of hope". What's needed is a lasting settlement.

Le Figaro thinks it's Putin, accused by the West of arming and reinforcing separatist fighters, who must convince the rebels to accept the peace plan. But Putin has signed nothing that commits him to do this. The latest Minsk agreement will work only if the West abandons its naivety and closely monitors each step of the process, making sure that the actions match the words.

Left-leaning Libération pictures the Russian president with a smile on his face, looking as pleased as punch. "Finally, it's him that's won", the paper declares. Libé thinks the agreement favours Putin's Russia. The Kremlin will retain control over its border with rebel-held areas of Ukraine and the future status of territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists remains vague.

The peace is "so precarious" and "a minefield", Libé thinks. All depends on what orders Putin gives, the paper says.

The Catholic daily La Croix says the agreement is a step towards peace in Ukraine and also seizes on the phrase "a glimmer of hope".

The first objective of Merkel and Hollande was to extinguish the flames, the paper says. That's to say, to halt the fighting and end the needless bloodshed. La Croix reminds us that 5,300 people have been killed in 10 months of fighting. It's a necessary first step on the road to a political settlement..

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Inevitably, there are many unanswered questions, La Croix observes. Questions about the degree of autonomy eastern Ukraine might one day enjoy. Questions about the future relationship between Ukraine and the European Union. Questions about Russia's ambitions and future behaviour.

Important as they are, to expect answers any time soon is jumping the gun. More immediate concerns are raised by the paper's special correspondent in Kiev, who says that the great majority there have little confidence in the peace deal. The mood among volunteers fighting alongside Ukrainian government forces is said to be one of distrust. They remember how promises made last time around were not kept. One can only hope they give peace a chance.

French presidents often find it more agreeable to stride the world stage as statesmen than to wrestle with the grisly, bread-and-butter problems at home. For the man on and woman on the Paris métro, jobs are probably top of the government's to-do list, which explains the wide coverage given to the order from Egypt to buy 24 Rafale fighters from France. The deal is worth 5.2 billion euros, several papers tell us. Welcome news for those employed in the aerospace industry.

More good news from La Croix and others is that the carmaker Renault plans to recruit 1,000 new workers this year. Has the troubled French economy turned the corner?

It will take more than snippets of glad tiding to persuade the communist daily L'Humanité, one suspects. The paper's front page anticipates strike action by workers in France unhappy with their wages. Some things never change.

One thing might. And ought to, according to L'Humanité. Reflecting on the trial underway in the northern city of Lille of former IMF chief and Socialist luminary Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others on charges of pimping, the paper says it's time to abolish prostitution. A tall order, even for the hard left.

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