As the World Cup comes home from Russia, France closes office in Moscow following 'illegal arrest' of funds and blocking of French law.
The French authorities have decided to close down the Russian office of Business France. The agency is responsible for supporting French business in Russia and operated as part of its embassy in Moscow. According to a French embassy statement, ‘this decision, which takes effect on July 16, 2018, was taken following a notification of Russian authorities that from now on, Business France is no longer allowed to work in Russia under the provisions of French law.’
The embassy explained that in the last few months the conditions for the work of Business France in Russia have significantly worsened, following an ‘illegal arrest’ of its bank accounts and the expulsion of its director. According to French officials, the director of the service Pierric Bonnard had been expelled in March despite his diplomatic status, with his bank account also being blocked, in retaliation to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from France after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain. An embassy statement said: ‘The agency still considers it as its duty to continue supporting French enterprises in this important market and will henceforth rely on non-state partners working in Russia, to ensure the continuity of services that the French state intends to provide them with.’
The Russian Foreign Ministry appeared surprised by the French decision and denied that France had informed authorities about the closure, adding that Moscow had ordered Paris to solve problems with Business France. The foreign ministry stated: ‘If the decision to close the trade mission of France was adopted, then it is clear that this is desire of the French side. We are opting for developing trade relations.’ Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed ministry official as saying ‘the Russian side has long been suggesting that the French authorities resolve all issues related to the status of the trade agency in accordance with Russian law.’ On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed at a meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that mechanisms of cooperation between France and Russia are being restored. This facilitates the ‘positive development of multifaceted ties.’