Europe must be less dependent on the US in economic and defense areas, and needs stronger ties with Russia, a “vast” country essential for the future of the continent, says Francois Fillon, the French Republicans’ presidential hopeful.

 

Fillon

 

Fillon, who is the Republicans’ nominee to face far-right and socialist rivals in the presidential elections in April-May, after his landslide victory in the primaries for the center-right party, outlined his vision for France in an interview on Sunday with Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

 

“Relations with Russia are a strategic issue for the future of Europe. We made mistakes in the past pushing Russia into faulty actions,” he said, adding that Russia is a country without a democratic tradition, but with a nuclear arsenal. 

 

“The US would not accept aggressive states at their borders. What made them [US] deploy the anti-missile system at the Russian border then? We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said.

 

Russia is “a vast country that cannot be treated light-heartedly,” Fillon argued. “There are two options: you either try to find an agreement with Russia, or you confront it. Who in their senses wants a conflict with Russia?”

 

Fillon, with 23 to 25 percent of the vote, placed second after far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with  25 to 26 percent in the latest Ipsos Sopra Steria survey. Emmanuel Macron of the ‘En Marche!’ (Foward!) movement is third with 19 to 21 percent. 

 

In his first major media appearance since becoming the center-right nominee last year, Fillon promised to focus on defense, security and a more integrated eurozone. Often called “Putin’s friend” and a “Thatcherite” by the French media, he advocates lifting economic sanctions against Russia and a broader rapprochement with Moscow.

 

“To think that we can break down the Russians by imposing economic sanctions is naive. Our relationship with Russia should be rebuilt,” Fillon told Le Monde, adding that it could become an incentive for both sides to restore ties.

 

The West has made many mistakes in its dialogue with Moscow, Fillon noted, particularly by “deceiving the Russians on Libya, Kosovo and economic partnership with the EU,” as well as making “irresponsible statements” on the possibility of Ukraine and Georgia – former Soviet republics bordering Russia – into NATO.

 

The Europeans “just have to accept that Ukraine and Georgia are not going to enter the EU and NATO” as Washington “does not accept having aggressive states at their borders,” he said.