France Downplays Jet Swap with Russia
Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
PARIS - France says recent joint maneuvers in which Russian and French pilots flew each other's aircraft were not an effort to help Russia join NATO or the European Union, but simply "in the interest of world peace and cooperation."
In two significant steps of military cooperation last week, French and Russian warships maneuvered together off Norway and pilots from the two nations flew each other's jets in another exercise over Belarus.
Russian Sukhoi 27s and French Mirage 2000s took off from Russia's Lipetsk Air Base near the Belarus border.
Both exercises coincided with the visit to Moscow of three senior French officials. The developments have led some diplomats to call the warming of relations "the Paris-Moscow axis," and some consider it part of a larger plan for Europe.
French officials say Paris is merely establishing new links with Russia for world peace.
Nonetheless, members of the governing center-right expressed reservations about the still-unclear design for a "greater Europe" pursued by the government of Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin and strongly backed by President Jacques Chirac.
Almost immediately after the announcement of various forms of French-Russian military and trade cooperation, Alain Juppe, a former prime minister and now secretary-general of Mr. Chirac's Union for the Presidential Majority, rejected the idea of Russia as a significant partner of the European Union.
"The idea of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals has been overtaken," he said while on a visit to Moscow last week.
The concept of strong French links with Russia clashes with Moscow's ambition to become a political center of influence similar to that of the European Union, Mr. …