RD Interview: Nicolas Dhuicq, a member of the National Assembly of France, outlines the reasons behind the recent visit of French lawmakers to Crimea.

Thierry Mariani (center), the head of the delegation of French parliamnetarians, talking to Russian journalists during a press briefing. Photo: RIA Novosti

The visit of French parliamentarians to Crimea this summer seems to have encouraged their counterparts from other European countries to visit the peninsula, which is still not recognized by the international community as Russian territory. 

Nicolas DhuicqThis week one of Russia’s State Duma deputies, Vasily Likhachev, claimed that parliamentarians from Italy, Spain and several Eastern European countries were also going to pay a visit to Crimea.

In late July, a group of 10 French parliamentarians visited Crimea, which was met with mixed reactions throughout Europe. The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denounced the visit as “a violation of international law”, while the lawmakers positioned themselves as “ambassadors of an alternative France.”  At the same time, some Russian experts and media warned that the Kremlin would use the Crimean vacation of the French parliamentarians as a tool of propaganda to promote its political agenda.

Eight out of the ten French parliamentarians, including Nicolas Dhuicq, represented The Republicans party, the center-right party headed by former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy which is now the second-largest party in the French parliament.

 Related: "Why the Crimean vacation of French MPs matters so much"

In this interview with Russia Direct, Nicolas Dhuicq, a member of the National Assembly of France, explains what motivated him and his colleagues to visit Crimea and why there is such a negative perception of Russia among French politicians.

Russia Direct: Recently you visited Crimea. What made you go to Crimea, risking a negative public assessment at home in France and in Europe in general?

Nicholas Dhuicq: As a French member of parliament (MP) I represent free people and a sovereign country. So this was the main driver for my visit to Crimea, along with the need to see with my own eyes what is going on in Crimea and how its population is living under the current realities. Also, I believe in the freedom of speech, thought and movement of MPs if we want to do our job properly.

Another reason is that French businesses and French agriculture are suffering from sanctions against the Russian Federation and Crimea. Crimea is a land of opportunities and it is a pity to see how France is missing business opportunities there while other businesses are entering the market.

I always try to do what I consider to be my duty for my country and this trip was in the long-term interest of France.

RD: Was it difficult to get to the Crimea? Were there any problems or obstacles in getting there?

N.D.: No, there is no difficulty to get there as the Russian authorities are very open to show the situation and are ready to welcome anyone who wants to see how things are going on the ground. And again, I want to reiterate that I'm very committed to my freedom of speech, thought and movement.

RD: What was the French and Russian government reaction to your decision to go with the group of French politicians to Crimea?

N.D.: While the Russian government was cooperative, the French government was against our visit. I see the main reason for that in our forgotten common history. The French government also does not remember the history of what is called today Ukraine.

Unfortunately, Russia is seen as a distant, strange and threatening country in the minds of European diplomats. But we are very keen, as members of the French parliament, to protect the separation between the French government and the French National Assembly. That is why we decided to go to Crimea regardless of the negative reaction of the French authorities.

RD: Can you describe your main observations from the trip to Crimea? How they are different from what is depicted in the majority of the Western media?

N.D.: We saw people living in peace and satisfied by being back in Russia, whatever their origins are. From an economic perspective, we also noticed that Crimea is a land of opportunities for French firms.

Of course, I believe there is a lot of work that has to be done in Crimea, especially in modernizing the peninsula’s infrastructure, such as building new roads, as well as developing tourism or addressing the issue of managing domestic waste. These are the fields in which France has extensive expertise and experience. French companies could offer their services and solutions, which would lead to mutually beneficial cooperation. Unfortunately, we are missing this opportunity, letting other countries that did not introduce sanctions enter Crimea.

RD: How many French parliamentarians are interested in going to Crimea to check it out with their own eyes? How many French lawmakers are willing to learn more about it?

N.D.: As usual, we are a minority. However, I believe in the power of minorities. I think that being in an acting minority is a way of making history and helping people evolve.

There are a lot of French deputies who keep the idea of a special relationship between France and Russia in their minds. But, again, the history of what is today called Ukraine is not known to many, which leads them thinking about Russia in a negative way.

RD: Your visit to Crimea gave an example to lawmakers from other European countries to go to Crimea as well and check how things are going there. Do you have plans to create a bigger coalition of parliamentarians from across Europe to go to Crimea?

N.D.: I suppose we have paved the way for others. Within months, I hope rationality will be back within the minds of those who are currently in charge of the decision-making process.

Anyway, among French young people and deputies from the right, I suppose, we are a majority. Nobody can deny the facts linking the tragic state of our agriculture and the impact of economic sanctions. I'm infuriated to see France paying such an absurd price, while others improve business relations with Russia and take our share of the market.

RD: What do you think can change people’s minds in Europe about Russia?

N.D.: First of all, I think that culture and history are very important here. We should remind people in Europe that Russia saved Europe three times. Russia did it not only during the Second World War, but also during the First World War. No victory in 1914 during the battle of the Marne would have been possible without Russia, as many German regiments were deployed on the Eastern front.

 Also read: "What's next for Russia and the Mistrals?"

There is also the main idea that Europe would have disappeared, or would have never been the one we currently all know, if Russia hadn't stopped and absorbed the Mongols (in the 13th century – Editor’s note). It is important to remind people that Russia has been a shield for Europe, not a threat.

Then, people in Europe have to be reminded that Russia is a part of Europe and Russians are Europeans. We have more things in common than things which separate us.

For example, take Siberia: We have a common interest in developing it together with the Russians and not giving it to the Chinese, who demographically pose a potential threat in this regard. The Western part of the continent lacks raw materials that are in Siberia. Therefore, in order to get an access to them, Siberia has to become a developed region. The better Siberia lives – the more resources could more efficiently be extracted.

And last but not least, we Europeans are going to be a demographic minority in the world if we don't work together, which makes the cross-cultural exchanges and border-free movement essential, especially with regard to our policies towards Russia.

RD: What particular role can France play in getting Russia and EU closer to each other?

N.D.: France and Russia need a strong relationship and close cooperation on the continent to counter-balance Germany, otherwise the German economy will dominate.

Moreover if we want to stay within history, we need to cooperate closer. We have to fight together against modern challenges and threats, such as international terrorism and Islamic extremism which are the greatest threats to us today.