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Sarkozy says the West is too tough on Russia

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged the West not to "isolate" Russia, as he prepared to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Sarkozy is in Moscow for a speaking engagement.

Sarkozy said in an address to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) on Thursday that a new Cold War would be "a defeat both for you and us."

"There is no sense in isolating Russia; we need to choose rapprochement and dialogue," a Russian news agency quoted him as saying.

His comments follow Moscow's backing for separatist rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine, along with Russia's stepped-up intervention in the Syrian conflict, both of which have been denounced by the West.

Sarkozy spoke shortly before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence outside Moscow.

The speech came as international talks were due to begin in Vienna to resolve the nearly 5-year-old Syrian civil war.

Controversial visit

Referring to Russia's own airstrikes on the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group, which are running alongside air assaults by the international coalition against IS, he said: "We must merge the two coalitions into one."

Sarkozy, who was French President from 2007-12, called for cooperation between Washington, Brussels and Moscow to end the Syrian crisis.

But his trip, and warm relations with Putin, have angered some in France and are seen as potentially damaging for current diplomatic efforts.

Western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine led to Paris canceling a deal to sell two warships to the Russian navy for an estimated 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion), a move that Moscow said was due to pressure from Washington.

Sarkozy is

preparing his political comeback as leader of the French Republican party,

seeking re-election as France's president in 2017.

mm/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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