Russia recruits new ciphers in France

Russia lost many of its influential spokesmen in the French National Assembly following last month’s elections, which saw all but a handful of their supporters lose their seats, including Thierry Mariani, a former Transport Minister under Sarkozy, Jean-Claude Bouchet and Nicolas Dhuicq.

During their last years of office these deputies visited Crimea twice, in breach of French national and United Nations policy, and they made pro-Russian public relations statements to demonstrate their solidarity with Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, speaking out in favour of removing sanctions against Russia.

But elections are great levellers, and it is not surprising that French voters failed to be impressed by the fact that these politicians spent their time on foreign ventures rather than representing the local interests of their own constituents. So they rightly exercised their democratic privilege to vote them out of office.

But before the dust has settled from these political changes, Russia is already recruiting replacements to support their propaganda initiatives in France. The latest ciphers to join their ranks are local government politicians from Bouches-du-Rhône county in southern France, who travelled to Donetsk via Moscow and Rostov-on-Don last June at the invitation of Russia.

According to the regional newspaper “Le Provence” the politicians include Christian Borelli, a municipal councillor from Vitrolles; Christiane Pujol, a departmental councillor from Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur province; and Hubert Fayard, municipal councillor in Coudoux. Their mission has violated Ukraine’s legislation by virtue of the fact that they entered Donetsk oblast by road from Russia and not from Ukraine. Apparently the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not aware of their visit.

What is interesting about the trip is not the fact that the Kremlin has recruited fresh ciphers to peddle their propaganda line in France, but that the new recruits should be of little influence compared with their predecessors, and that their mission bears absolutely no relevance to their electoral mandate at home. The local government politicians do not have the same representative status as Thierry Mariani who was the co-chair of the NGO “French-Russian Dialogue Association,” an organisation committed to “strengthening strategic relations” between both countries.

Could this be a sign that it has become more difficult for Russia to recruit support for the Kremlin’s line in French political circles under the new government of President Macron?

Whatever the reason, the Bouche-du-Rhône councillors will find it difficult to explain to their local voters back home what could possibly have been the relevance of their jaunt to Moscow and Donetsk to their their regional responsibilities to manage the municipal administration of Provence.

Their predecessors, the national politicians Mariani, Bouchet, Dhuicq and others, committed similar errors of judgement, and their careers came to an abrupt end. The pointless expedition of the Provence councillors may similarly prove to be limiting for their own future careers. Within days of the local French politicians’ departure from Donetsk, renewed fierce hostilities across the line of conflict flared up with the deadly shelling of Ukrainian military positions and civilians by the Russian troops invading Ukraine. The timing of the councillors’ visit could hardly have been worse.