World

Macron Meets Putin and Blasts Russian State-Owned Media as 'Lying Propaganda'

“France remembers how important relations with Russia are,” Russian state TV declared as President Vladimir Putin met new French President Emmanuel Macron in the lofty surroundings of Versailles palace on Monday.

Macron, who pulled off an unlikely victory in the French election against two more pro-Kremlin rivals, has long been subject to jokes from the Russian press and parliament, who have called him “ an agent of the U.S. banking system,” “ weak ” and “ the antichrist of false prophecy.”

The elaborate French reception, held at one of the country’s most famous palaces, had much fanfare and ended with a Macron and Putin sharing a golf cart ride through the palace gardens. Its opulence seemed to catch Russia’s attention more than any critical statements during the three-hour meeting.

Read More: France’s Macron meets Vladimir Putin amid tensions

During the meeting with Putin, Macron frequently reminded the Russian establishment why it dislikes him. The French leader raised the issue of the conflict in Ukraine—something Putin has hardly even acknowledged in recent conversations with Western leaders.

Macron pledged confidence in the maligned ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian forces in the east—which Moscow has unconvincingly denied it has backed since 2014. He also spoke out against the brutal tactics allegedly used by the Moscow-allied Syrian regime to regain control over the country.

“A very clear red line exists on our side—that is the use of chemical weapons by whomever,” Macron said. The most recent chemical attack in Syria took place in April and prompted the U.S. to strike a Syrian airfield in retaliation.

The French leader raised another uncomfortable issue for Putin—recent independent reports that under his hardliner protegé Ramzan Kadyrov, the region of Chechnya is running gay “concentration camps.” Macron even took a rare shot at Russia’s state-run foreign news agencies, warning them they “cease to be journalists” when they spread “slanderous falsehoods.” Western leaders tend to avoid naming and shaming Russian state outlets, especially in front of Putin.

“During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign,” Macron said. "They behaved like organs of influence, of propaganda and of lying propaganda.”

Immediately afterwards, RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan told state news agency Itar-Tass her publication was taking some of Macron’s allies to court for claims during the campaign that they were not credible media representatives thus blocking them from his campaign.

But the grand reception at France’s most lauded royal palace seemed to soften the blows from Macron’s rhetoric—much of the Russian coverage dwelled on the fact Putin is the first foreign leader that Macron has hosted in France. State-run channel NTV underlined the choice of venue was “truly unusual” and drew parallels between the reception of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the palace, followed by a tightening of relations.

“The choice of place says a lot,” Russian state TV channel Rossiya1 reported. “An honor guard, a red carpet, a ceremonial meeting—it is all ready. Vladimir Putin is the first foreign leader Emmanuel Macron receives in France.”

“This is not just a monument of art,” Russia’s state-run Perviy Kanal reported, noting Versailles was the venue for historic events such as the declaration of the end of World War I and Britain’s concession of U.S. independence.

Seemingly ignoring Macron’s jibes about Russian state media, outlets in Russia focused on the leader’s comments that Moscow and Paris’s “absolute priority” was to defeat militant groups in Syria, specifically the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). He said the two countries could jointly build stability in Syria.

“Did you hear that, colleagues, jointly, jointly, jointly,” NTV’s correspondent emphasized on air. The exact circumstances for this, given France’s commitments to Western initiatives and reluctance to support Moscow’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad, are unclear.

The meeting, Russian senator and head of the International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev said, “probably disappointed those who expected sensation or scandal.”

The first meeting went well, he wrote on Facebook, “but to expect concrete results would be excessive optimism.”