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Sarko and Vlad, sittin’ in a tree…

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images Why exactly is Nicolas Sarkozy “calling to congratulate” Vladimir Putin on United Russia’s widely discredited electoral victory? Putin always enjoyed a warm relationship with Jacques Chirac, but Sarkozy seemed to be less predisposed toward coddling dictators than his predecessor. This is certainly true of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stern tone with ...

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ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Why exactly is Nicolas Sarkozy “calling to congratulate” Vladimir Putin on United Russia’s widely discredited electoral victory? Putin always enjoyed a warm relationship with Jacques Chirac, but Sarkozy seemed to be less predisposed toward coddling dictators than his predecessor. This is certainly true of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stern tone with Russia couldn’t be more different from Gerhard Schröder, another of Putin’s European defenders. (And indeed, when he left office, Schröder became board chairman for a Gazprom pipeline project that he had boosted as chancellor.)

Sarkozy has also put France at odds with the EU, which issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Russia’s elections “did not meet international standards and commitments voluntarily assumed by Moscow.” Even new Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who has made improved relations with Moscow part of his platform, said, “we can’t turn a blind eye when democratic standards are not respected.”

Another interesting question: If Sarkozy is just playing realpolitik with the Russians, what does this say about the influence of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the president’s administration? The left-wing humanitarian has been one of Europe’s staunchest critics of Putin’s crackdown on opposition groups in recent weeks. Has France found its Colin Powell?

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