Sarkozy Needs a Lesson in European History

Article excerpt

Wherever the action is, you can count on Nicolas Sarkozy getting there first: swiftness is his political raison d'etre. Hence it was no surprise to hear that just 36 hours after Georgia began military operations in South Ossetia on 8 August, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was on a plane to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. No surprise, either, to see Sarkozy arriving in Moscow on day four of what had become a Russo-Georgian war, to urge the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to agree to a ceasefire. He could have let Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, broker the peace agreement. But the French president, who doesn't believe in delegating power and who loves nothing better than inflated prerogatives, would go to Moscow as the face of Europe, and as Super President.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As the left Paris, he had said he would convince the Russians to sign the six points of the EU peace proposal "immediately". And he did. Although, with Russian troops still dithering about actually withdrawing from Georgia as I write, many observers have started questioning the "ambiguities" of the French-drafted agreement, which could leave room for a semi-permanent Russian presence inside Georgia's borders. Sarkozy's army of advisers should warn him that swiftness without reflection can be the death of diplomacy.

But why was Sarkozy so eager to be seen flexing his statesman's muscles? Because, beyond the immediate political gains of his actions, there is something about Russia and Vladimir Putin that profoundly titillates him, and if he knew his French history he would know that such a feeling goes back hundreds of years.

Catherine the Great was, of course, an admirer of the French Enlightenment-indeed, of all things French. A little later, her grandson Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon paved the way for Franco-Russian relations. …