MOSCOW — On a trip that will likely shape Russia-France ties for years to come, President Vladimir Putin is set to visit France for talks on Monday with newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron after expressing sympathy for his rivals during the campaign.
After Moscow lost its bets in the French vote, the visit offers the Russian leader a chance to turn the page and try to establish ties with Macron as the Kremlin has struggled to mend a bitter rift in relations with the West.
The meeting comes in the wake of the Group of Seven's summit over the weekend where relations with Russia were part of the agenda, making Macron the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the talks.
The Kremlin has hailed the visit as a chance for Putin and Macron to get to know each other and better understand their views on a range of disputed issues, including the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and Russia's ties with the European Union.
Macron's invitation for Putin was a surprise after his tough stance on Russia during the presidential campaign that contrasted with the platforms of some of his rivals, including far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon, who both have spoken for ending Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis.
Amid the Congressional and FBI investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential vote, Macron's aides claimed in February that Russian groups were interfering with his campaign. Moscow has strongly denied all allegations of election meddling.
Putin, however, made his preferences in the French presidential election clear by hosting Le Pen at the Kremlin in March — part of Russia's efforts to reach out to nationalist and anti-globalist forces in a hope of boosting their influence in the West.
Over the years, Putin also has frequently met with Fillon, the French prime minister in 2007-2012, and praised him as an experienced statesman.
Analysts say the visit to Paris offers Putin an opportunity to improve ties with France that had steadily deteriorated in the closing months of Francois Hollande's presidency.