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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac and Putin Keep Their Cool




OKINAWA, Japan -- President Vladimir Putin joked wryly about his cool relationship with France's Jacques Chirac on Sunday after a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and Russia, in which the two presidents largely tried to avoid each other.


Russia has been stung by strong criticism from Paris of its military campaign in Chechnya and by a series of court moves against Russian interests in France.


"I gave him [Chirac] a book about the Kremlin. In France, they should not forget where the Kremlin is or the fact that such a place exists," Putin told a news conference, drawing loud laughter.


Chirac gave Putin a book about the Amazon rain forest.


Putin, who had bilateral talks with all the other leaders during the three-day summit, only held brief exchanges with Chirac.


But Putin, whose taciturn mien conceals a mischievous sense of humor, also took care to praise the French leader.


"Of course, Mr. Chirac is one of the acknowledged leaders of world politics. He is a very experienced person and even an expert on some issues," Putin said.


"He impressed me with his encyclopedic knowledge, especially in the field of oriental martial arts," Putin said, referring to the French leader's interest in Japanese sumo wrestling. Putin himself has a black belt in judo.


Putin said he would attend planned talks between Russia and the European Union in October in Paris.


But he made clear his trip was linked solely to the fact that France holds the rotating EU presidency and that his visit would not amount to a full-blown bilateral meeting.


Putin said he and Chirac had touched on the strong cultural links between Russia and France during their Okinawa exchanges.


"I hope that our dialogue will be continued and continued in the mutual interests of both France and Russia," he said.


Chirac has been more diplomatic about the chill in relations, saying simply that a summit devoted to global issues was not the appropriate place to discuss bilateral problems.


Relations between Moscow and Paris have been sorely strained by Chirac's strong criticism of the 10-month military campaign in Chechnya and allegations of human rights abuses against civilians by federal troops.


Paris further angered Moscow with the recent seizure of a four-masted Russian tall ship in its western port of Brest at the request of the Swiss trading company Noga, which says Moscow owes it $800 million. French courts have also frozen the bank accounts of Russian diplomatic missions in the case.


Putin has pointedly left France off his itinerary of European visits, which has included Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.


He has also visited China, Japan, North Korea and Central Asia since his election as president.