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Putin Meets Macron In France For Talks Amid Strained Ties

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived at the Palace of Versailles Palace outside Paris for talks with new French President Emmanuel Macron that could set the tone for ties between Moscow and Paris in the years ahead.

Macron greeted Putin outside the palace on May 29, and the two leaders shook hands and exchanged apparent pleasantries and smiles as they strolled up the red carpet side-by-side toward the entrance of the former royal palace ahead of their meeting. They did not take questions from the press.

The meeting is the first between the two men since Macron's decisive May 7 victory over right-wing rival Marine Le Pen, a Putin admirer whom the Kremlin and its surrogates appeared to favor, and comes amid bilateral ties that remain strained.

Macron, whose team alleged that Russian hacking and disinformation efforts aimed to derail his campaign, has been expected to continue the foreign policy trajectory of his predecessor, Francois Hollande.

He has supported the continuation of Western sanctions targeting Russia over its 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine whose war with Kyiv's forces has killed more than 9,000 people.

Le Pen, who met with Putin in Moscow during the campaign, opposed the punitive measures.

In addition to the Ukraine standoff and Moscow’s alleged interference in the French presidential election, which the Kremlin denies, Russia’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war is among the difficult issues Macron and Putin face.

"I will be demanding in my exchanges with Russia," Macron said after Group of Seven (G7) leaders on May 27 agreed to consider new measures against Moscow if the situation in Ukraine does not improve.

He added that it was "indispensable to talk to Russia because there are a number of international subjects that will not be resolved without a tough dialogue with them."

Macron, 39, is timing the meeting to coincide with an exhibition on Russian Tsar Peter the Great. The meeting is set to begin at 1:45 p.m. local time.

He is looking to "underline his new status as one of the leaders of a united Europe," Tatyana Stanovaya, a France-based analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank, told Deutsche Welle.

Putin, 64, is expected to attempt to build new ties with Macron after a troubled relationship with Hollande.

The Russian president canceled a visit in October after Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria.

Prominent international rights watchdogs, meanwhile, urged Macron to raise the issue of human rights with Putin, who is accused by critics of carrying out a broad crackdown on dissent and turning a blind eye toward abuses by law enforcement authorities.

"There could not be a more important time for France’s leader to speak out strongly about the need for its Russian partner to recommit to liberty and human rights," Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said in a May 29 statement.

Rights groups have also drawn attention to an alleged campaign of abuse, including murder, targeting gay men in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in Russia’s south ruled by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Activists gathered in Paris ahead of the talks on May 29 to demand that Macron raise the issue during talks with Putin, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did earlier this month. Standing in a square near the Eiffel Tower, they raised a banner that read: "Stop homophobia in Chechnya."

"It's important that Mr. Putin is ready to hear, we hope, strong words coming from Mr. Macron, to say 'stop' to that homophobia which has lasted for too long," Cecile Coudriou, vice president of Amnesty International France, told the Associated Press.

The Kremlin and its surrogates have long sought to push human rights off the agenda in its dealings with the West and chafed at U.S. and European criticism of its record on the issues.

Aleksei Pushkov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker and prominent foreign policy voice in Russia's upper house of parliament, expressed hope for a "pragmatic" approach from Macron.

"During Putin's visit, the pragmatism of Macron that has everyone talking will be tested," Pushkov said on Twitter. "Pragmatism demands better relations with Moscow."

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Muslim Global: Putin Meets Macron In France For Talks Amid Strained Ties
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