Sarkozy Declares Himself a 'Friend of Russia' Ahead of Meeting Putin

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who now leads France's Les Republicains opposition, has declared himself "a friend of Russia" and warned Europe to strengthen dialogue with the Kremlin, while on a visit to Moscow, state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Speaking at Moscow's prestigious State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) on Thursday ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sarkozy said that "dialogue between Russia and France and between Russia and Europe is indispensable. This dialogue is not always easy...[but] this dialogue presupposed mutual respect."

He added, "It makes no sense to isolate Russia. Without Russia we cannot provide responses to the serious causes and sharp crises which arise today. Anyone who forgets the fundamental role played by Russia, has made a mistake. France has not done this."

Sarkozy branded himself "a friend to Russia" emphasizing that he is not "prepared to change in this regard," RIA reports. "I will always be your friend, but an honest friend," Sarkozy told the audience of MGIMO students. "This does not mean someone who always says what you want to hear, but a friend is a person of conviction. A real friend is he who speaks earnestly."

Sarkozy outlined the issues he hopes to raise with the Russian president, telling RIA that he would ask Putin not to view Europe as an enemy. "I would like to say that our interest is in working together, including in Syria. It is necessary to return to dialogue as soon as possible about both Ukraine and Syria."

Sarkozy also said he considered Putin to have "restored the sense of pride to Russia" and that "from a global point of view Putin's work has, of course, been positive and a factor of stability."

MGIMO's rector, Anatoly Torkunov told RIA that Sarkozy had been awarded an honorary doctorate by the institute for his contribution to Franco-Russian friendship.

Sarkozy also reiterated that he doesn't believe that Putin-ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down from power is a "prerequisite" to the peace process, French daily newspaper Le Parisien reported. The former French president had expressed similar views in July, in an interview with French daily national newspaper Le Monde.

"I do not understand why a former President of the Republic would go to Russia," François-Michel Lambert, a member of parliament for the green Union, des démocrates et écologistes party told national daily Le Figaro. "This parallel diplomacy is not good for anyone." He noted that Sarkozy's predecessors, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac, "have never used their titles as former presidents to interfere with French diplomacy and especially to go to Russia."

Bruno Le Roux, MP for the ruling Socialist party, told national broadcaster BFMTV "Throwing spanners in the works is second nature in Nicolas Sarkozy's circles, in this scenario and in many others."