Discussions about effectiveness of sanctions made fruitful grounds for speculations by those inclined to fish in troubled waters. Some representatives of French business openly ignore the EU restrictions declaring readiness to invest in Crimea and other partnerships with Russia
'The only difference between myself and Gérard Depardieu is that I have too many grandchildren,' admitted Pierre Richard, as he agreed to play a part in Nikita Mikhalkov's film. 'Otherwise I'd gladly take Russian citizenship too'.
Not only he stars in films by Russian directors, he also imports his Château Bel Evêque to Russia. The wine is so-so, by the way, but it sure isn't cheap: a bottle will set you back €15–20 at wholesale prices. With its knee-jerk response (or rather revenge) to the EU's sanctions, along with many other goods Moscow embargoed the wine of both Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu. The difference indeed is in the number of grandchildren only.
In a recent interview Richard mentioned that he was pondering the possibility of investing in some real estate in Crimea because he 'has many friends in Russia'. Unlike Depardieu, he's not going to acquire wineries. But why not open some other kind of business? Yes, there is a small matter of military occupation and illegal annexation of this territory belonging to another sovereign state, but why would an artist fill his mind with such trifles?
The war in Ukraine became the moment of truth for many celebrities and influential businessmen and politicians of the West. While their rhetoric keeps well within the European standards, in their deeds a certain part of them demonstrates a drastically different set of values: an edited one, if you will, reduced to own comfort and wealth. Meanwhile the right of other nations for life, dignity and own culture is left on the editing room floor.
'It is a treason that's unheard of!' outraged the radical "Left Front" leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon in reaction to France's decision, not even to call off, but to suspend the sale of two Mistral amphibious assault ships to the Russian Federation. A treason of what? The illusion that there can be guaranteed jobs in today's economic realia? Sure, the realization of contemporary market reality does represent a certain discomfort for the far left. But it's not really comme il faut for a recent candidate for presidency to even consider the choice between own ideological stereotypes and the lives of possibly tends of thousands of Ukrainians that may be killed with the use of those assault ships, is it?
Self comes first not only for the France's far left. Another former candidate for presidency, the head of "Movement for France" party Philippe de Villiers, a conservative and proponent of exiting the NATO and the European Union, recently visited Crimea also looking for lucrative opportunities. He is set to build a historic park on the peninsula similar to those he opened in France. The businessman with a political background has been full of praise for Vladimir Putin ever since he met the Russian head of state. 'France is needs a leader like Putin!', de Villiers said to Le Figaro newspaper. 'Putin is the greatest contemporary head of state', he declared in an interview with Valeurs Actuelles.
The list goes on and on, but what is really important is that as he condemns "the dissolution of nations and identities in the big globalized empire under the American reign", de Villiers refuses to notice that his idol is doing just that: trying to dissolve Ukraine in a "big globalized empire" under the Kremlin's reign, and doing so at the cost of thousands if not tens of thousands of human lives. Is this selective blindness? Troubles with simple logic?
The inferiority complex nurtured by a considerable faction of French political elites which keeps looking up to the United States is plain to see. What is more, with some entrepreneurial nous anti-American rhetoric can yield business opportunities. Fore example, those recruiting the mercenaries for the war in the East of Ukraine assure their candidates that Russians in the Donbas are "fighting America to protect the white race". Absurd as it may sound, there are those who find this argument compelling enough.
However, the percentage of truly ideological Putin-philes within the economic beau monde of Paris is probably inconsequential. 'The d'Artagnans are a thing of the past', smirked a banker, who worked in Russia for long time. 'The French fair of adventurers now offers modern-day Thénardiers with three diplomas and an aspiration not to conquer, but to acquire the world.' Obviously for the majority of the pro-Russian lobby behind the rhetoric of lofty matters are things that are far more material and down-to-earth.
De Villiers, for instance, has a son who has been living in Moscow for some time. There he has a successful business in partnership with Konstantin Malofeev, who happens to be one of the public backers of the DNR and the LNR (the Russian-controlled and funded terrorist organizations that call themselves Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics and are centered in the two respective cities of Ukraine - Ed.). 'Malofeev became a friend of the family', acknowledged de Villiers. I suppose, those are things one would do for a friend and a business partner. And so we hear Philippe de Villiers say things about Ukraine that are rather untoward. Another activist of a pro-Russian lobby and Yanukovych's good friend, a member of the right "Union for Popular Movement" in the National Assembly Thierry Mariani also has long lasting business interests in Russia. It was him who organized the visit of Sergey Naryshkin, the speaker of the Russian Duma to Paris on September the 1st. The piquancy of the situation, however, is that the latter happens to be on the list of Russian officials that are subject to sanctions of the EU. Just like Leonid Slutski, the Duma member, who accompanied him, Naryshkin is banned from visiting France.
You see, there is a shortcut in the labyrinths of international law. And Mariani made the most of it. International organizations have the right to invite persons at their discretion with no regard to the policy of governments. In our case the French Russophile used the Bureau Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as pretext.
Why the new PACE president, the liberal Anne Brasseur effectively took part in sabotaging the sanctions is anyone's guess. 'We only wanted to promote a dialogue with Russian members of our Assembly.' she explained to Le Monde.
The modest urge of the European Council has then been picked up by the Russian embassy in Paris. On the occasion of the speaker's visit a grand reception has been thrown at the embassy. Among those that had the cheek to turn up was the top brass of French industry, namely Total, GDF, EDF, Auchan, Dassault… There were also politicians: the former candidate for presidency and a Euro-skeptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the former Interior Minister and representative of the far left Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the former PACE president and a moderate-right Jean-Claude Mignon, the European Parliament member from the ultra right "National Front" Aymeric Chauprade and even the socialist Jean-Yves Leconte, that later had to defend himself in the press, comparing his visit to 'spying behind enemy lines'…
So with the entire political spectrum, France's biggest companies in attendance, the theme of this evening in the Russian embassy was… the situation in Ukraine. Needless to say, neither the diplomats, nor journalists and civic activists that don't quite share Kremlin's views on Kyiv were invited. Operation "Undermine Sanctions": successful. The pro-Russian lobby is sure to organize more.
From a legal standpoint the actions of these lobbyists are classified as voluntary collaborationism… Or rather they would classify if the Ukrainian war itself was officially classified as war. But as long as the victim of military invasion is reluctant to break diplomatic relationships with the aggressor, the shortcuts remain open for the freebooters of economy and politics to exploit.
After posing for a photograph with Sergey Naryshkin, who is recognized to be directly responsible for the organization of bloodshed in Ukraine, Thierry Mariani signed the photo: 'sanctions against Russia are pointless'. And according to the information from the Russian embassy's dinner party that found its way onto Twitter, practically all of the guests expressed a similar view. Was it out of common courtesy, the ideals? Or perhaps out of self-interest, the overwhelming greed for money that overshadows everything and has nothing to do with fundamental European values?