The French foreign and defense ministers have held "frank" talks with their Russian counterparts in Moscow as Paris pushes for a detente with Russia.
Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly of France and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu on September 9 held the first meeting in the so-called "2+2" format that was suspended after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.
Relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated over other issues including Russia's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and its alleged meddling in other countries' elections.
However, Le Drian said during a joint press conference following the day's discussions that "the time has come, the time is right, to work toward reducing distrust."
"Of course, there will be no durable reconciliation between Russia and Europe without having any progress on the issue of Ukraine," the French foreign minister stressed. But he described conditions for better ties as "favorable, maybe better than ever over the last three years."
Le Drian made clear that the French side had come to Moscow to pursue "a new agenda of trust and security," in keeping with French President Emmanuel Macron's recent initiatives regarding Russia.
Macron hosted President Vladimir Putin for talks last month and renewed high-level diplomatic contacts in a bid to bring Russia in from the cold.
Defense Minister Parly said "it is important to talk to each other, to avoid misunderstanding and friction," while Lavrov said that progress on rebuilding relations was "possible and necessary."
'Architecture Of Confidence'
Lavrov also welcomed France's efforts to rebuild relations, saying that Macron’s initiatives “aimed at enhancing Russian-French cooperation on the global arena in the context of our efforts on jointly settling all modern issues” fully meet Moscow’s interests.
During a phone conversation on September 8, Macron and Putin hailed the exchange of 70 prisoners between Russia and Ukraine as a step forward in efforts to bring peace in eastern Ukraine where fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
The two agreed that the "current dynamic" will allow a summit of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine to take place in Paris later this month, Macron's office said in a statement.
Putin said that any future four-way talks, known as the Normandy format, "should be thoroughly prepared" to find peace in the conflict, according to the Kremlin.
The Elysee Palace also said that France and Russia would be working on a "common, strategic road map" for improving ties.
Le Drian said that a "window of opportunity" had opened for bringing peace to Ukraine following the prisoner swap, but cautioned it was “not yet the time to lift sanctions” that the European Union has imposed on Russia for taking over Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"We are seeing a new state of mind compared to that of the last few years, which we are pleased about," he told the news conference.
Ahead of the meeting, Parly told TASS that that there were "many geo-strategic challenges where France and Russia have shared interests."
"Of course, we disagree with each other on some issues, but this is what prompts us to strengthen dialogue," the French defense minister said.
She added that Paris wants to "foster a candid and demanding dialogue on all these issues showing openness and also putting forward our conditions."