The French president was looking to temper expectations for Putin's first visit. The leaders' meeting was about working together, he said - even if through clenched teeth, writes Barbara Wesel.
There was no handshake duel this time as Emmanuel Macron of France met with Russia's Vladimir Putin for the first time. The two presidents stood stoically before cameras, then moved onto business. Macron is well aware that his Russian counterpart would have preferred seeing someone else in the Elysee Palace. Now he is stolidly making the best of a tense relationship.
Merkel as an example
Macron's political approach to Moscow seems to reflect that of Angela Merkel: keep communication open, meet together and discuss problems. However, there need not be a wonderful friendship as a result.
Using the regal Versailles Palace as a backdrop, Macron's clever presentation of the historical relationship between France and Russia allowed him to involve Putin while keeping him in his place. An exhibition for the 300th anniversary of Czar Peter the Great's visit to the French king highlighted the long history, and the coming and going of the nations' rulers.
No time to take offense
Unlike President Donald Trump, the young leader of France is markedly grown up. Macron did not linger on such minor affairs as Putin's working against him in the bitter French election campaign. During the campaign, Putin received his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, at the Kremlin. It is well known that he also gave her party financial support.
Yet the strategy to destabilize Europe, in part with support for far-right politicians, has stalled. Austria did not buckle. Wilders in the Netherlands did not succeed. Le Pen lost. At most, there is Trump to help damage the transatlantic relationship.
Nor did alleged, last-minute Russian hacking efforts succeed. It proved too late to foment scandal by revealing Macron's emails.
Macron put an end to Putin's arduous games, by clearly telling him what he wants from him. Namely, that is a new Normandy Format to address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and violations of the Minsk Protocol. On the Syrian front, Macron has indicated that further use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad would be met by a swift French response. Obama promised the same, but it would seem Macron means what he says. The same is true for Macron's focus on civil rights in Russia. The presidents' discussions were described as open and frank. That means nothing was held back.
Exercise in power
Before the state visit, Macron said he was unimpressed by the logic behind the type of power used by Putin, Trump and Turkey's Recep Erdogan. By contrast, Putin tried to charm his host. There is mistrust on both sides to overcome.
Macron knows what he walked away with. The meeting was a new attempt to make a partner out of Putin for international conflict resolution. That can work only to the extent Putin wants it to. Macron is well aware of that logic and will be given little room to maneuver. In Marcon, Merkel will find a worthy partner on Russian affairs.