Nicolas Sarkozy has made no secret of his attempt to redefine French foreign policy, not least when it comes to Russia.
During his presidential electoral campaign he distanced himself from Jacques Chirac’s friendship with Vladimir Putin.
In front of a meeting of foreign ambassadors in August, Sarkozy accused Russia of a “certain brutality” in using its energy weight to influence smaller neighbours once under Moscow’s political control.
Then he added: “I am one of those who believe that friendship between the United States and France is just as important today as it has been over the past two centuries.”
When Sarkozy became president, Putin waited 48 hours before congratulating him and talks between the two nations faltered. Yet when the two leaders met at the G8 summit, they appeared to get on well.
Observers quickly noted a number of similarities – a certain pyschological closeness in their way of looking at the world, a refusal to be fatalistic and a pragmatic attitude to life.
Both also appear to be building themselves action man images at home and on the world stage, allowing themselves to be photographed jogging and on horseback.
French political analyst Dominique Moisi said: “The image Nicolas Sarkozy wants to present is one of modernity – I am a new president because I am young.”
The summer holidays produced another series of photo opportunities.
A bare-chested Putin is pictured striding through the great outdoors, a vision likely to win the admiration of at least half the population, according to Cosmopolitan magazine’s Russian editor in chief Elena Vassilieva: “He is in good shape, he is smart. When they recently saw him half naked I guess for somebody it was a kind of shock but for the majority of Russian women it was like a present.”
Whether Sarkozy will be able to redefine Franco-Russian relations, taking a tougher line but without alienating Putin, will soon become a lot clearer.