Alexandre Orlov, former Russian Ambassador to France denounces in his Briefs* a European and French policy which isolates and leads to a withdrawal of its country on itself. “Is this really what you want, to strengthen the weight of the conservatives against the liberals at home?”, He denounces. According to him, the sanctions against part of the entourage of Vladimir Poutine, suspected of being responsible for the poisoning of Navalny, are a “serious mistake”. He also gives his impressions of the next US presidential election, regretting that the duel opposes “two old men, one senile, the other regulating world affairs on Twitter”.
The European Union decided this week to sanction the Belarusian president but also part of Vladimir Putin’s entourage, suspected of being responsible for the poisoning of the opponent Alexeï Navalny. Is it useful?
This is a very serious mistake. Even admitting that the election was rigged in Belarus, the vote gap between President Lukashenko and his opponent is such that you have to know how to recognize when re-elected. Whether you like it or not. Europe would do better to remember that its members signed the Helsinki Accords, which provide for and encourage contacts between companies and their leaders. The USSR was very reluctant to do so, but it is clear that this movement ended up leading to peaceful revolutions. By sanctioning Lukashenko, we will strengthen the repression and push away the democratic future. In my own country, I know of officials who have been placed on a blacklist by the United States or the European Union. It is extremely humiliating and counterproductive: the opposite of diplomacy.
For those close to Putin, could we let Navalny’s poisoning pass without reacting?
Where are the formal proofs of what the Europeans are saying? It is a stunt that has no logic because Navalny is an ideal opponent for Vladimir Putin. It would therefore be absurd to eliminate it. Do not forget, on the contrary, that the Russian doctors in Omsk did everything to save him and that it was at the request of his wife that he was let go to Germany. Would we have done it if we really wanted to murder him? As for Novichok, it’s a mystery. We did not find any on Navalny and Germany does not want to send us its analyzes. It was all aimed at discrediting the Kremlin at a time when the West did not want Putin to come to the aid of Lukashenko in Belarus.
In your opinion, is Belarus at risk of ending up like Ukraine?
I hope not! The two countries don’t have much to do with it. During World War II, Belarusians resisted the Nazis more than the Ukrainians, with their Partisan movement. And look at the two protest movements: in 2014, the Maidan, in Kiev, was very violent, while in Minsk, the protesters are peaceful. On Putin’s advice, Lukashenko went to see opposition leaders in prison. He wants to work with them on a constitutional amendment that will allow new elections.
Is that really what you want, to reinforce the weight of the Conservatives against the Liberals at home?
How does Vladimir Putin see these sanctions? Do they weaken it in its influence on the course of things, in Belarus as in the Caucasus?
When the President of the European Commission signaled that strategic dialogue was no longer possible with Russia, Sergei Lavrov, the head of Russian diplomacy, replied that in this case it had to be stopped, that we no longer wanted to dialogue with those who do not respect us and our patience has limits. Russia will therefore turn in on itself. Is that really what you want, to reinforce the weight of the Conservatives against the Liberals at home? For me that would be the worst case scenario.
Emmanuel Macron is nevertheless in favor of a demanding dialogue with Russia….
Whatever his inclinations, he is not credible. He wants to improve relations with Russia, but no action follows. He had nevertheless denounced the deep state which was taking over him but this Russophobic spirit is stronger than ever. Since Brégançon’s meeting with Vladimir Poutine, the current has not passed and things are going in circles. I thought he was sincere, but above all I see that he is a man in a hurry, more driven by effect and communication than the content and consistency of a policy. And it is he who, with Angela Merkel, initiated the sanctions on the Navalny affair, without offering formal evidence. His ‘yes but’ method makes him do one thing and its opposite. We are far from the will of General De Gaulle’s strategy, which was based on the triptych of understanding-detente-cooperation with Russia.
Europeans often suspect Russia of wanting to divide the European Union and of having a will for sovereign power. Is this overkill?
On the contrary, we want Europe to be sovereign, independent. Because Europe has aligned itself with the United States and it is also suffering the consequences, if only through American extra-territoriality laws which are illegal under international law. From Pompidou to Macron, I have seen France go ever further in European integration. But the progressive delegation of French foreign policy to Brussels, under the rule of unanimity, made it lose its voice while that of the European Union does not really count.
It’s quite sad and mind-boggling to see that one of the greatest countries in the world is ruled by an uneducated man
What is your take on Donald Trump’s four years in power and candidate for re-election?
It’s quite sad and mind-boggling to see that one of the greatest countries in the world is ruled by an uneducated man and that the presidential duel next month pits two old men, one senile and the other regulating affairs of the world on Twitter. I believe that in case of victory, Joe Biden will not change the relationship between the United States and Russia. Democrats might even be made to poison it more, because they are more ideologized and less pragmatic than Trump.
You spent nearly 50 years in France, are you amazed or disappointed with what has become of it?
I had the best of it in the 70s. But I think since then it has lost a lot of its DNA by welcoming too many people from different backgrounds. The refusal of these populations to integrate has led to communitarianism, which has nothing to do with a mixing of cultures where everyone respects the same laws and traditions.
*A Russian ambassador in Paris, Alexandre Orlov with Renaud Girard, preface by Hélène Carrère d’Encausse (Fayard, in bookstores on October 21).