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France's Macron Travels To St. Petersburg For Talks With Putin


French president Emmanuel Macron made a reputation for himself as President Trump's bro on his visit to Washington a month ago. And he may be becoming Russian President Vladimir Putin's good friend, as well. Macron is in Russia this week. Today, he's going to attend Putin's annual economic forum in St. Petersburg, which most Western leaders have avoided after Russia earned the disapproval of the world by annexing Crimea four years ago. NPR's Lucian Kim is in Moscow now and joins us. Hey, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So is Emmanuel Macron the Putin whisperer?

KIM: Well, that's what he may want people to think. Of course, he's also been called the Trump whisperer. And despite all that camaraderie we saw last month when he visited the White House, he didn't exactly convince Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. Macron's very different from Putin and Trump. He's young, progressive and very pro-European Union. And, of course, he also remembers that the Kremlin wasn't exactly subtle about its support for his opponent, the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, in last year's election. But Macron is also a pragmatist, and he realizes that Putin holds the key to solving a lot of problems. He invited Putin to Versailles almost right after his inauguration. And last night when they were meeting, he called Putin cher Vladimir - so dear Vladimir. And he said he wants to look ahead, not back.

MARTIN: OK. For President Putin, though, the advantages are mostly economic, right? I mean, France is a big investor in Russia. Is that economic piece of the relationship growing?

KIM: Well, in regards to the Russian economy, it's very hard to say that anything is growing right now. Macron is a staunch supporter of European Union sanctions that punish Russia for its military involvement in Ukraine. And then there are, of course, also these new U.S. sanctions that target Russian businessmen for the Kremlin ties. And that scared off a lot of foreign investors, really, from having anything to do with Russia, be it from France or anywhere else.

MARTIN: What does the French president gain from this relationship?

KIM: I think a lot. You know, I've been speaking to analysts in both Paris and Moscow. And everybody agrees that for Macron, this is all about Macron and not some new kind of partnership with Putin. Macron wants to be seen as Europe's new dynamic ambassador who can talk to American leaders and Russian leaders. Of course, German Chancellor Angela Merkel used to play that kind of role. But she can't really engage in that macho backslapping that Macron can. In fact, Macron - Merkel visited Putin last week. But all that anybody is talking about right now is whether it was appropriate for Putin to give her a bouquet of flowers.

MARTIN: I'm not going to weigh in on that. So the two leaders discussed the efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal, as well. What did they say on that?

KIM: That's right. I mean, this issue was really at the top of the agenda. Both Putin and Macron are very committed to the deal, as are, actually, all the other players, including Britain, France and the European Union. Actually, in some way, Trump inadvertently pushed the Europeans and the Russians together. Last night at a press conference, Macron and Putin said they will be consulting on how to keep the deal intact and reduce the risks from U.S. sanctions to their companies doing business in Iran. But, of course, that's going to be very difficult for all sides involved.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Lucian Kim reporting from Moscow this morning. Thanks so much, Lucian.

KIM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MNDSGN'S "HOMEWARDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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