Chechen Republic of Ichkeria: France Should Press Putin On Rights, Watchdog Says
Putin arrived Thursday evening and held talks with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. France is eager to expand its business with Russia, and talk of energy, space and aviation deals was expected to dominate Putin's meetings with Fillon and talks Friday with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Putin, who has urged French oil giant Total SA to take a more active role in Russia's energy sector, also will meet Total CEO Christophe de Margerie as well as former President Jacques Chirac.
Amnesty International says France should not only be looking at its pocketbook while Putin is in town, but also raising concerns about abuse of those who criticize authorities in Russia, notably in and around Chechnya.
Journalists who have investigated abuses in Chechnya have been tortured and even killed. One of Chechnya's best-known rights activists, Nataliya Estemirova, was kidnapped and killed last year.
In Moscow and around the country, racially motivated attacks by neo-Nazi groups have led to deaths and severe injuries in recent years.
Amnesty welcomed Putin to the French capital with a brief video clip projected around Paris that shows the making of a macabre matryoshka, or Russian nesting doll. The smiling, pristine outer doll conceals three oppressed figures within, one bloodied, one chained, one muzzled.
The video ends with a screen message: "Let's not let Russia's charm make us forget the atrocities."
"We cannot be silent about what is happening," the president of Amnesty International France, Genevieve Garrigos, told The Associated Press. "We do not understand why human rights is not on the agenda."
She criticized what she called "a climate of general impunity" for those who commit racist crimes and torture.
An open letter in French daily Liberation on Thursday accuses Russia's leadership of "permitting" the killing of human rights advocates. The letter was signed by former Czech President Vaclav Havel and South African Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Frederik de Klerk.
Putin, in an interview on France-2 television ahead of his visit, noted that France's overcrowded prisons have come under fire from human rights groups, too. "There are threats (to human rights) everywhere. Take for example the threats to human rights in the French penitentiary system," he said.
The crux of Putin's visit is a showcase for Russian industrial might at Paris' Grand Palais, an exhibit that appears aimed at engineers and companies shopping for spaceships or other heavy equipment.
The head of Russian gas giant Gazprom is also in France this week. Alexei Miller said at an energy conference in Cannes on Thursday that despite worldwide efforts to seek nontraditional energy sources, western Europe will be dependent on natural gas — including Russian gas — for the long term.
Putin's visit may give French and Russian officials a chance to hammer out hitches in talks on the sale of up to four French Mistral-class warships to Russia's navy, a sale that has worried Russia's neighbors, some of France's NATO allies and human rights activists.
Putin said earlier this week there were still questions about how much of the ship or ships would be made in Russia.
Another difference between France and Russia that may come up at the meetings is Iran, after the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday approved new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. France loudly championed the sanctions and wants the European Union to press Iran even harder, while Russia only reluctantly backed the sanctions and says they won't keep Moscow from selling Iran missiles.