R.Politik’s founder, Tatiana Stanovaya, is regularly quoted by major Russian and international media outlets. She is available for commentary in Russian and English.
‘Better Than Super’: Russia Reacts To Trump-Putin Summit In Helsinki
“They’re not cracking open the champagne in the Kremlin but are getting ready for long, hard work,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst. “They didn’t plan to close any deals or move ahead on any issues. They wanted to legitimize dialogue — to bring it back.”
There is relief in the Kremlin that Trump didn’t do anything unpredictable, make any demands on which further cooperation would depend or just appear ambivalent, according to Stanovaya. But despite the friendly atmosphere, she said, the Kremlin is aware Trump could still end up taking them by surprise.
La politologue Tatiana Stanovaya explique que Poutine n’attend pas de Trump qu’il soit prorusse, mais que grâce à ses sorties il divise le front occidental uni contre son pays.
Vladimir Poutine est sorti par le haut de sa première rencontre bilatérale avec Donald Trump. Pour la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, fondatrice de la revue R.Politik, l’objectif – rétablir le dialogue avec Washington – a été atteint.
Qu’est-ce que la Russie a obtenu à l’issue de la rencontre entre Trump et Poutine ?
Poutine mise sur le long terme. Personne au Kremlin n’attendait d’avancées concrètes. Les deux objectifs du pouvoir russe, et de Poutine personnellement, étaient de débloquer le dialogue et de définir des directions pour commencer à discuter sérieusement. La Russie peut se targuer d’avoir réussi, mais ce succès est fragile et réversible. On ne se fait pas d’illusions sur le fait que le président américain, une fois rentré à Washington, peut faire volte-face. Comme l’an dernier, par exemple, quand les Russes et les Américains avaient annoncé à Hambourg [en marge du G20, ndlr] la création d’une unité de cybersécurité. Dès son retour, Trump a changé d’avis. Pour le Kremlin, le président américain n’est donc pas un interlocuteur fiable avec lequel on peut trouver des accords stables sur les questions stratégiques, mais il faut néanmoins que le dialogue se renoue au niveau des chefs d’Etat, c’est ce qui compte le plus. Les contacts qui existent, notamment sur le plan militaire, sont trop locaux et ne touchent pas aux questions importantes des sphères d’influence, de processus de paix ou encore de la destinée de Bachar al-Assad, etc.
Si le Kremlin ne se fait pas d’illusions sur Trump, est-ce qu’il y a des tentatives de le contourner pour établir d’autres canaux diplomatiques ?
Trump reste le principal atout pour les Russes aux Etats-Unis. La question n’est pas de savoir s’il est prorusse. Ce qui compte, c’est qu’il soit antisystème. Ça casse une position occidentale unifiée et toutes les logiques traditionnelles. Poutine sait qu’il ne peut pas discuter avec un Occident qui lui oppose une résistance unie et dure. Son principal objectif est donc d’affaiblir la pression des Occidentaux, leur politique d’endiguement qui nuit aux affaires russes, aussi bien intérieures qu’extérieures.
Dans ce cas, au-delà de l’image d’un dialogue qui repart, quelles avancées concrètes peut espérer Moscou dans la coopération avec Washington ?
Concrètement, sur les grands dossiers comme l’Ukraine, la Crimée, la Syrie, les sanctions, la Russie n’a pas de plan sur la manière d’obtenir ce qu’elle veut de Trump.
La colère provoquée aux Etats-Unis par les propos du président américain, que l’on accuse de trahison, peut-elle être une bonne chose pour le Kremlin ?
J’ai l’impression que personne, à Moscou, ne s’attendait à une telle réaction. Qui plus est, les accusations contre les douze agents du GRU [le renseignement militaire russe] ont été perçues en Russie comme un coup de poignard dans le dos. Au Kremlin, on ne se dit pas «Poutine va discuter avec Trump», mais «deux superpuissances vont enfin s’occuper de l’ordre mondial». Et là, une partie des élites américaines – qui, pour Moscou, ne représentent pas l’Amérique – frappe Trump dans le dos et l’empêche de régler des questions d’une importance cruciale. Je pense que le Kremlin a sous-estimé la portée possible des paroles de Trump sur les Américains. Les Russes auraient peut-être pu prendre des précautions, faire en sorte qu’il ne se retrouve pas dans une position aussi vulnérable. En même temps, le Kremlin considère que ce n’est pas son affaire de sauver la peau du président américain. Et est convaincu que la vague de soupçons sur l’ingérence russe va finir par retomber. Notamment après les élections de mi-mandat de novembre, dont la Russie se tiendra ostensiblement à l’écart et tout le monde le verra. Poutine a dû promettre des choses dans ce sens.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently re-elected for a fourth term, finalised the lineup of his new government and presidential administration in June. Many people expected that Putin would use the start of his new term to significantly refresh his staff, but no personnel revolution took place, and even officials whose fate had seemed sealed kept their jobs.
This lack of change in staffing is often explained as proof that the president has once again opted for stability, fearing radical change in his entourage. Yet falling back on the stability card could turn out to be a false premise that doesn’t explain the logic of the president’s actions and wrongly describes the nature of what is going on. There are reasons to believe that the Putin regime today is, on the contrary, more prepared than ever before for change, including within its staff.
The events of the last four years show that Russia’s fabled stability and lack of change have stopped being the top political value. Proof of this is the staff reshuffles of 2016, which significantly renewed the ruling elite and strengthened the trend of replacing Putin’s old associates with young technocrats who have nothing to do with Putin’s past. That process began after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, when the role of the siloviki in making state decisions increased dramatically, while that of civil institutions fell accordingly. At the same time, conflicts among the elites grew deeper, because Putin was distracted from internal affairs, which gave more autonomy to various factions. All of these were factors in the decision to revamp Putin’s entourage in 2016, and remained relevant in March at the time of his re-election.
A crucial development that demonstrates that the regime is prepared for personnel reshuffles and is generally less attached to stability is the unfreezing of banned topics and the move toward implementing reforms that Putin has been putting off for years. The domestic economic agenda has taken on political significance, and the state has begun slaughtering sacred cows with its proposals to raise the retirement age and reassess tax policy.
Let’s suppose that, despite the importance of carrying out pension reform today, Putin had the political choice not to raise the retirement age. In the media, there is an active discussion over the difference between the president’s current position and his position 13 years ago: in 2005, he dismissed the idea, saying, “I am against increasing the pension age, and while I am president, no such decision will be made.” His spokesman points out that the situation in the country has changed since then. But is that the only issue here?
One of the reasons for pension system reform is the president’s growing political confidence: his dependency on the mood of the electorate is decreasing, his fear of falling ratings is receding, and his feeling of control over the political situation is cementing. In a sense, Putin is being nationalized, and transforming from a political leader into an institution that belongs to the entire state mechanism.
In this situation, the president himself is beginning to reason not as a political leader running the state, but as the embodiment of that state, disregarding passing threats to concentrate on state priorities. This transformation, which has been underway since 2014, makes the regime capable of changes that it would not previously have undertaken.
It is also worth noting that for several years now, the topic of color revolutions has disappeared from Kremlin discourse, having lost its status as chief bogeyman. The point is not that the Kremlin has stopped believing that the West is prepared to attempt regime change in Russia, but that the regime itself feels less vulnerable.
An interesting trend has appeared: after six years of the government failing to make significant decisions, the state has suddenly started to become increasingly dynamic. This concerns not only pension and tax reforms, but also the new presidential decrees issued in May, which appear to be far better thought through than those signed in May 2012, at the beginning of Putin’s third term.
Putin’s changed role has led to the gradual unfreezing of key administrative institutions. If before, any decisions had to be approved by the president and were made at a snail’s pace because Putin had no time, now it’s the other way around: decisions are made precisely because Putin has no time.
The president is increasingly inclined to delegate responsibility, and that means that the system’s overall volatility and dynamism will grow. When Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeats that Putin is not involved in the pension reform, he isn’t just saving his boss from a hit to his popularity; he’s indulging in a bit of wishful thinking. The head of state doesn’t want to deal with raising the pension age, or getting bogged down in dull accounting calculations about pensioners. Putin has the luxury of being able to distance himself from making an unpopular decision, having chucked this hot potato over to the politically accountable government.
Delegating responsibility for untangling administrative knots is no longer the exception, but is becoming routine, which is impacting staffing policy. Another example of this is the revised approach to the informal system of running the North Caucasus: a region of critical importance for the stability of the Putin regime. A bold experiment with personnel is underway in Dagestan (the system of having quotas for different Dagestani ethnicities within the regional authorities has been scrapped, and the region now has its first non-Dagestani acting head, Vladimir Vasilyev), while federal siloviki are gaining influence there and powerful clans are being routed (as evidenced by the arrest of the wealthy Magomedov brothers). Such experiments are hard to describe as part of a stable staffing policy or fear of change.
The reappointment of people to Putin’s entourage who were widely expected to lose their posts is far from a refusal to make changes to staff, and certainly doesn’t come from a fear of change. The Russian regime today is readier than ever before for changes, and it needs them. Decisions concerning personnel are coming to a head in many areas, above all in the security forces and foreign policy blocs, both of which carry out the president’s basic administrative requirements.
The fact that Putin did not undertake the large-scale reshuffle that was expected immediately after his re-election does not mean he has no intention of doing so. The dynamic of decision-making in picking his lieutenants depends too much on the geopolitical context, and as far as Putin is concerned, there are different cycles in place here that have nothing to do with elections — or at least, with the Russian elections.
Tatiana Stanovaya for Riddle
There were two key reasons in favour of Surkov’s dismissal. The first has to do with management and strategic understanding of the Ukraine crisis and the ‘Donbas project.’ Apart from other tasks, the FSB’s fifth service — i.e. its intelligence and international relations service — deals with Ukraine. Colonel-General Sergey Beseda has been heading this service since 2009. He is one of the most influential leaders in charge of foreign policy at the FSB. He represented the special services in Ukraine in the days of the 2014 revolution trying to ensure the security of the Russian embassy and establish rapport with the Ukrainian secret services. In the autumn of last year, Beseda officially supported Leonid Pasyechnik, the Minister of State Security of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, who conducted a coup and ousted Igor Plotnitsky. Plotnitsky had closely followed Surkov’s instructions on the ground, although the latter had different plans as regards developments in the separatist republic. Besides, the siloviki have traditionally had little trust in spin doctors like Surkov, who are often suspected of showing excessive admiration of the West.
Secondly, Surkov’s position is undermined by a lack of visible progress on implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreements, as well as by the stalling of Russian–American dialogue with Kurt Volker. In addition, Russia’s uniformed services are not interested in compromises with the West and would rather opt for radical solutions (such as awaiting Ukraine’s collapse and a degradation of the unity of the West). That stubborn and radical standpoint complicates Surkov’s work.
So why the delay? In short, there’s a backlog of postponed decisions, and a wish to sit tight and wait for the geopolitical weather to change. A breakthrough in the geopolitical situation would give Putin the chance he needs for restructuring. That window could open unexpectedly: Trump’s volatility may bring surprising new developments, that Putin will do his best to spin as positive, and open the door to needed staff reshuffles.
By Tatiana Stanovaya. Translated by Nicholas Trickett. This piece originally appeared in Republic.
Last week Vladimir Putin signed decrees mandating personnel and structural reshuffles within the presidential administration. Observers had waited impatiently for these changes: unlike the government, which mainly deals with the “Russian economy”, the presidential administration is the center of political and state management and the heart of Russia’s “big politics”. Intrigues have added regular rumors of the resignation of this or that key figure from Putin’s team: Yuri Ushakov, Vladislav Surkov, Larisa Brychevaya, and even, it seemed, the unsinkable Alexei Gromov. But the large reshuffles proved to be much ado about nothing: practically the entire administration kept their previous roles with certain pointed exceptions. In reality, important political processes motivated the decision to limit changes.
Enjoying the Spoils
The fact that Vladimir Putin didn’t carry out large reshuffles does not at all suggest that they aren’t planned or won’t be realized in a relatively short time (within 1-3 years). The president faced a dilemma: to postpone decisions for a couple of months until the whole package of new personnel configurations was ready – a number of anonymous Telegram channels have even written they could be set aside till the fall – or to limit changes to only the most necessary ones. There’s a good reason why the latter option was chosen – those handling domestic politics were in a hurry to “preserve their gains” and enjoy the spoils of an election campaign deemed successful from the president’s point of view.
Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign (more precisely, the work of domestic policy handlers) was heavily criticized by the opposition, groups near power and political technologists. The Kremlin was criticized for the lack of campaign platform, for its bloated and twisted missive to the Federal assembly (Putin’s presidential bid was announced very late, almost at the last possible moment), for its functional emptiness and the lack of an “image for the future” so intensely sought by pro-Kremlin experts since 2016. The campaign was also criticized for its minimal political competition, poorly conceived work with the systemic political opposition, and the case of Pavel Grudinin (who was built up into a convincing candidate before they tried to find every excuse to get him out of the race).
The fact that elections were held with competing managerial power centers . On the one hand, Sergei Kirienko – [Putin’s first deputy chief of staff] – and his team played an important decision-making role [as Kirienko was tasked with running the campaign]. This was made difficult due to Kirienko’s uneasy relationship with the head of the domestic policy shop, Andrei Yarin. On the other hand, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin – a former handler for domestic policy – and his agenda remained a strong influence on party politicking. In these conditions, Vladimir Putin’s reelection wasn’t an electoral task, but a fight over his political apparatus. Since Putin liked the campaign, winning the fight strengthened Kirienko’s team.
The competition between managers gives rise to intrigues: clearly Kirienko and his subordinates didn’t just claim a moral victory. They tried to make maximal use of the planned personnel and structural changes within the political cycle to their favor: this was their time to shine. And the longer Putin dragged it out, the less they could get since time dulls the emotional aspect of decision-making. Perhaps after six months, the president wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about the merits of his administration.
That’s why domestic policy handlers were, in fact, the main driver behind current personnel changes, which could have been made somewhat later by Putin’s logic. And that’s why these decisions were made in large part in favor of the domestic policy bloc. Sergei Kirienko was given administrative control over the State Council’s procurement office and the development of communication technologies and infrastructure in addition to the domestic policy office and office of public projects. At the same time, administrative authority over local governance was moved to the domestic policy office as well as youth policy, patriotic upbringing, and the development of internet projects.
A number of media outlets have indicated that Anton Vaino’s powers as the head of the presidential administration have expanded. However, first deputy Kirienko was given two additional responsibilities to balance out Vaino’s influence. The issue isn’t competition, but more Putin’s attempt to provide a more natural order of things. The head of the presidential administration – Vaino – shouldn’t lose face because [Putin] provided excessive resources to a subordinate. Vaino therefore was formally handed three policy portfolios for which he was actually already responsible: protocol, interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries, and anti-corruption initiatives.
Kirienko failed to grab the head of the domestic policy shop Andrei Yarin’s [influence]. But this is probably just temporary: the battle’s been lost, but not the war (although, of course, nobody in the Kremlin thinks in these terms or that there’s a real confrontation). For Kirienko as well as anyone handling domestic policy, a situation in which a manager doesn’t run a structure that’s “his own” is not only uncomfortable, but ineffective from a managerial perspective. For Kirienko, this means that either the office of public projects will continue to be given a greater role (led by Kirienko’s right-hand man Sergei Novikov) and the domestic policy office will be weakened, or Yarin will have to leave.
It’s not yet time
Keeping personnel changes in the presidential administration minimal is also an attempt by the president to delay key decisions that in the short or medium term could affect two important figures – Vladislav Surkov and Yuri Ushakov. Both are included in the provisional foreign policy bloc, which includes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov was also predicted to resign, but his departure was postponed.
It’s important to note here that personnel decisions concerning figures like Lavrov or Surkov have less of personal and administrative logic for Vladimir Putin. Foreign policy is a special currency that can be traded for some purpose or other according to emerging market conditions. Wasting such a resource for nothing is clearly not desirable. Today, there’s no basis to expect positive outcomes for key strategic foreign policy questions. You can fire Surkov and Lavrov, but their places have to be filled with figures whose appointment could be read as a signal, a gesture, a certain message to an international society for which Putin has nothing to meaningfully offer. Therefore, there’s been no decision about Lavrov, and that means the others – Surkov and Ushakov – are left hanging. It’s not correct to say that Putin kept Surkov and Ushakov in their places. Putin has delayed replacing them for now.
In this case, the fate of the “Ukraine file”, currently stuck in permanent stalemate, will be especially significant. Any future successor to Surkov will be forced to do work that’s actually doomed to fail. Russian dialogue with the world community about the Donbas is increasingly moving from one that discusses the fate of the troubled region to a communication battle in which acting like Russia’s defense attorney is more important than reaching a compromise. Now that Surkov is being crowded out, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays a more active role. Finally, the security services are also pressing Surkov too since they’re actively engaged with affairs in the Donbas. A gradual disengagement from Surkov’s function in foreign policy is taking place (he has to compete with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the provisional domestic policy, intra-Donbas bloc (where the General Staff and FSB have their own policy mechanisms and priorities).
Putin’s choice isn’t simple: either find Surkov’s replacement among diplomats (or even politicians) who are focused on the Minsk process, or among the “Chekists” who are interested in preventing humanitarian crises and coups in the LPR-DPR. The necessary conditions to make a confident choice aren’t yet clear. If Surkov leaves, it would be for personal reasons rather than Putin’s desire to give the resolution of the Ukraine crisis a push (of course, there won’t suddenly be a plan [for a resolution to the conflict]).
Filling a vacuum
Two new figures have joined the presidential administration, but only because there were vacancies. Konstantin Chuichenko was sent to the cabinet to be closer to his protégé Dmitry Medvedev and was replaced by FSB hand Dmitry Shalkov, formerly the head of the [Putin’s] “control center”.[i] Since 2015, Shalkov was responsible for intergovernmental affairs at the FSB, largely unpleasant work: for example, he pushed forward the “Chekist” laws. Prior to that, he led the main Military Investigation Department of the State Investigative Committee. Shalkov wasn’t too influential a player within the FSB and was more likely an outsider. For that reason, his departure can be seen as strengthening FSB director Alexander Bortnikov.
This becomes even more obvious considering the departure of another deputy from the FSB – Evgeniy Zinichev. Zinichev was expected to take Bortnikov’s place, but instead became the Minister of Emergency Situations. Thus, the FSB director who’d been actively “fired” during the last two years managed to get rid of two figures he was lumped with who weren’t members of his team. It’s important to note that the post of head of the “control center” is a largely technical role. Its main task is to maneuver between the interests of much more influential players who often have direct access to Putin.
Another newcomer, Anatoly Seryshev, joined the administration, in large part, thanks to the weakness of his predecessor – Yegveniy Shkolov, the now former aide to the president who oversaw the fight against corruption and personnel. Seryshev was deputy director of the Federal Customs Service and his promotion is linked to National Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev and the head of Rostekh Sergei Chemezov. [Both have interests in the Federal Customs Service, which has been the object of clan fights within the FSB for years.]
Both Chuichenko and Shkolov, despite their significant formal status, were political outsiders to the presidential administration. The former was too pro-Medvedev and many issues were resolved with his exit. The latter was burned by the Denis Surgobov affair[ii] – games with the FSB in Russia usually end badly. Shkolov has turned from a legendarily powerful figure into a technical player from whom Putin has significantly distanced himself. Their cohorts are also likely to be invisible players, although their gain, undoubtedly, will consist of being left alone politically. In this sense, the technocratization of power is proving true.
Current personnel decisions are just a prelude to large reshuffles that have been postponed. Vladimir Putin will have to deal with the foreign policy bloc, where Sergei Lavrov and Yuri Ushakov are clearly on their way out and Vladislav Surkov has exhausted all of his political possibilities. The president will also have to optimize the makeup of the domestic policy bloc where unresolved issues remain. The current array [of personnel] will contribute to the accumulation of internal contradictions, the erosion of political heavyweights, and the arrival of younger technocrats. But Putin himself remains the main driver behind reshuffles. He clearly doesn’t want to act according to the dictated logic of pre-election cycles and makes decisions with geopolitical context most strongly in mind. That means the biggest intrigues are still to come.
[i] The “??????????? ??????????” could be literally translated as “control department”, but basically connotes a body and network of oversight powers within the presidential administration meant to serve as a sort of “lobby” before one ascends to talk to Putin. The office juggles competing interests in a technical, middle-management sense. Chuichenko’s new role is analogous to chief of staff for Medvedev’s cabinet. Shalkov’s role is difficult to precisely define given that he’s not actually Putin’s chief of staff and needs time to settle in. Chuichenko had served in the role for a decade.
[ii] Denis Surgobov was a former head of the Main Department of Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Activities within the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was arrested and sentenced after admitting to being part of a criminal organization and sentenced to 22 years in a labor colony. The sentence was lightened to 12 years by the Supreme Court.
The political and administrative dispersion of governance is under way in Russia: regulatory functions are being scattered among government and near-government players, which will inevitably result in the formation of first moderate and then increasingly pronounced polycentricity within the state. Initiative will eventually stop being punishable.
The influence of major corporations and business groups in the new Cabinet has grown. Rostec state corporation head Sergei Chemezov has significant representation: Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (defense-industrial complex), Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov, and Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova are all considered to have ties to him.
Chemezov is the only member of Putin’s inner circle whose protégés have been successful in government. In addition to the aforementioned ministers, presidential administration head Anton Vaino is also considered one of Chemezov’s men. Among the reasons Chemezov’s charges have done so well is that they tend to be nonconfrontational and technocratic, and have priorities that fit well into recent trends: import substitution and support of domestic industry, military modernization, and the digital economy.
Yevgeny Zinichev can also be classified as a political appointee. He is one of the most mysterious figures in the security service circles. He’s been Putin’s aide-de-camp in the Federal Protective Service, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for Kaliningrad region, and a deputy director of the FSB (named as a possible replacement for FSB head Alexander Bortnikov). Zinichev has now been appointed Emergencies Minister, a great affront to Shoigu, who has long been lobbying for the Emergencies Ministry—which he previously headed—to be merged into his Defense Ministry.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst in France, says the simple fact that Macron is in Saint Petersburg is important for the Kremlin because it raises Putin’s stature on the global stage. The two men first met a year ago when Macron surprised Putin by inviting him to the Palace of Versailles outside Paris.
The Kremlin views him as a leader who’s here today, gone tomorrow and that he’s unlikely to accomplish anything more in Saint Petersburg than he did during his visit in Washington. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.
« Macron peut se montrer plus dur ou plus conciliant, il peut se montrer pragmatique et dire que la Russie est un partenaire stratégique, ça ne changera rien, décrypte Tatiana Stanovaya, de l’institut de réflexion R.Politik. Parce que ce qu’attend la Russie, ce sont des actes, et un changement de politique à son égard, et je pense qu’il y a un certain niveau de défiance à l’égard d’Emmanuel Macron. Ce n’est pas seulement que la Russie se méfie de lui, c’est plutôt qu’elle le sous-estime… Moscou sous-estime son rôle, ses propositions, et ses ambitions. »
« Moscou veut profiter de cette situation pour montrer qu’une approche plus pragmatique est nécessaire vis-à-vis des sanctions américaines, lorsqu’elles s’appliquent aux entreprises non américaines, ajoute Tatiana Stanovaya. L’idée c’est de remettre en cause la légitimité de ces sanctions extraterritoriales, non seulement pour l’Iran, mais de façon globale, y compris lorsqu’elles concernent les entreprises européennes qui travaillent en Russie. »
Pour la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, qui dirige le cabinet d’expertise R.Politik, la visite d’Emmanuel Macron à Vladimir Poutine, dans le cadre du Forum économique de Saint-Pétersbourg, ces 24 et 25 mai, ne va pas modifier en profondeur les relations entre la France et la Russie, qui n’ont d’ailleurs pas vraiment évolué depuis la première rencontre entre les deux chefs d’Etat, à Versailles, il y a un an.
Dans quel état sont les relations entre la France et la Russie?
J’ai le sentiment qu’aussi bien du côté russe que de côté français, l’humeur est comparable. Pourvu que ça ne se détériore pas encore. Pour la Russie, ce qui compte avant tout, c’est le fait que le président français soit venu. Cela légitime le dialogue avec la Russie, et pas seulement sur le dossier syrien ou ukrainien, mais sur les relations économiques, les interactions des entreprises. Pour la France, cette visite est importante, car Macron se présente comme le porte-parole de l’Europe. Il établit très clairement son système de priorités, le rapport à la Russie est très structuré, Macron ne mélange pas les dossiers. Il ne craint pas de faire les déclarations et de prendre les positions les plus dures, tout en engageant le dialogue sur les sujets les plus sensibles. La politique de dissuasion actuelle est compréhensible et logique, mais n’est pas très efficace.
Quelle a été la dynamique de cette relation depuis la première rencontre entre les deux chefs d’Etat il y a un an à Versailles?
L’élite russe continue de se méfier de Macron et de le sous-estimer en tant que dirigeant. L’un des problèmes principaux de la diplomatie russe aujourd’hui c’est qu’elle sous-estime les leaders des autres pays, et surtout la France. Le Kremlin est convaincu que les Etats-Unis dominent la politique étrangère des états de l’Union européenne. Que Macron n’est pas libre, qu’il raisonne à l’américaine et que, quels que soient, ses projets, il demeure toujours sous l’influence de Washington. Au Kremlin on se dit: «Nous allons nous mettre d’accord avec Macron, investir dans le dialogue et la recherche de solutions communes, et ensuite Macron ira voir Merkel, ira à Washington et ils rebattront les cartes dans notre dos. Quel est l’intérêt de faire des efforts?»
Et pour la France?
Le problème est que la Russie n’est pas prête à développer le dialogue dans le sens proposé par la France. Prenons l’exemple du «Dialogue du Trianon»: la France le pense comme une interaction avec la société civile, la Russie impose une relation avec des fonctionnaires, des gens proches du pouvoir. Coté français, donc, c’est la déception et l’abattement. Et côté russe, comme ce n’était pas leur idée, ils sont assez indifférents.
L’un des dossiers brûlants qui vont être abordés est l’Iran, suite au retrait des Etats-Unis de l’accord sur le nucléaire.
Ni la France ni la Russe n’étaient réellement prêtes à la sortie des Etats-Unis de l’accord. Le risque existait, mais personne ne s’y est vraiment préparé. Je ne pense pas que Poutine et Macron aient des solutions très élaborées à ce stade. Macron propose un accord élargi, mais le Kremlin est réticent, car il trouve que c’est une solution à sens unique, avec beaucoup trop de responsabilités, sans vraiment de contrepartie. La Russie ne voit pas l’intérêt de travailler sur un tel accord, tout en restant ouverte à la discussion. L’Iran est effectivement le thème central, qui éclipse tout le reste, mais je n’attendrais pas une percée diplomatique. Les élites russes espèrent peut-être que le désaccord entre les Européens et Washington peut leur être bénéfique, mais en réalité cette discorde ralentira la politique de dissuasion plus qu’elle ne participera au rapprochement entre la Russie et l’Europe. La méfiance est trop profonde. Les relations trop abîmées, avec l’affaire Skripal, l’ingérence dans les élections… Et les décisions de Trump qui compliquent les relations internationales ne sont pas une raison pour que l’Europe révise ses relations avec la Russie.
Poutine a invité Macron dans le cadre du Forum économique de Saint-Pétersbourg. Faut-il y voir une intention particulière?
C’est une manière d’élargir le champ de manœuvre, en sortant du cadre des relations purement géopolitiques. D’obliger la France à parler de coopération économique, de stratégie, de défense, au-delà des dossiers épineux habituels qui empoisonnent les relations entre les deux pays.