A Frenchman with an illustrious name laid a wreath before the monument to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany at Stalingrad on Thursday, the 80th anniversary of the battle that changed the course of the second World War.
Pierre de Gaulle, age 59, is the youngest grandchild of the second World War hero Gen Charles de Gaulle, who served as president of France from 1959 until 1969. Many consider him to have been the greatest Frenchman of the 20th century.
De Gaulle, a financial consultant in Geneva, has made himself a willing tool of Russian propaganda. His grandfather visited Volgograd in November 1944, when it was still Stalingrad and in ruins. He returned in 1966, shortly after withdrawing France from Nato’s integrated command to the delight of Soviet rulers.
Volgograd has changed its name back to Stalingrad for the anniversary every year since 2014. Local media reported that stray dogs were rounded up, bus stops painted and eyesores covered with trompe l’oeil tarpaulins for Vladimir Putin’s visit. The local governor was reportedly quarantined, in deference to Putin’s fear of Covid-19, before he was allowed to guide the Russian president through an exhibition of alleged Ukrainian war crimes stretching from the Great Patriotic War to present.
It is not known whether de Gaulle met Putin at the commemorations, but Russian officialdom had a field day with the French visitor. “Pierre, grandson of de Gaulle, is in Volgograd today to honour the memory of Soviet soldiers,” the Russian foreign ministry tweeted.
The conflict in Ukraine is an economic and financial war led by the US against Moscow with the support of the EU and fed by Nato. Europeans are the big losers— Pierre de Gaulle
After de Gaulle made an impassioned pro-Russian speech at the Russian embassy last June 14th, the anniversary of the Russian Federation, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov praised his “objective evaluation” of the war in Ukraine.
De Gaulle told the Russian news agency Tass in Volgograd that the West harboured a superiority complex regarding Russia, adding that he admired “the strength, determination and profoundness of the Russian people”.
De Gaulle participated in a televised discussion with Russian officials, including Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russian external intelligence, in Moscow on January 31st on the theme of “the historic memory of the second World War” in Russia and France. “Europeans are imprisoned by their illusions about Ukraine,” de Gaulle said, adding that it was “time to speak sense to the Americans”.
De Gaulle’s discourse is a compendium of pro-Russian tropes. He says “Putin is a great leader” and that the US forced Russia to invade Ukraine.
“Everyone recognises the responsibility of the US in the present conflict, the disastrous role of Nato’s endless enlargement and the rash politics of the Ukrainian government,” de Gaulle told Le Parisien newspaper on January 24th. “Unfortunately, westerners let [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelenskiy, his oligarchs and neo-Nazi military groups get locked into a spiral of war.”
De Gaulle told Le Figaro on January 20th that it was his “duty to re-establish the truth, as an heir to de Gaulle”. The French and Russian people are “bound by years of friendship and blood spilt against the Nazis”. His grandfather saw Russia as “an indispensable alternative” to US domination.
The conflict in Ukraine was “an economic and financial war led by the US against Moscow with the support of the EU and fed by Nato. Europeans are the big losers,” de Gaulle said. “The US will fight to the last Ukrainian, even the last European, but incur no risk. They are the real winners of this war.”
De Gaulle accused the West of breaking promises it made in the 1990s. “Can Moscow accept the thoughtless, boundless expansion of Nato? How do you expect the Russian president to react to encirclement?”
France announced this week that it would give another 12 Caesar self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, in addition to the 18 promised earlier. “By delivering arms to Kyiv, France endangers itself,” de Gaulle said. President Emmanuel Macron is considering sending Leclerc battle tanks and fighter aircraft.
“We are today enslaved by Nato,” de Gaulle said, denouncing France’s “shameful dependency” on the alliance. “Where is the sovereign and respected France of my grandfather?” he asked.
“My brother Pierre’s analysis engages only himself,” Yves de Gaulle told Le Parisien. “He does not speak for me, nor our family, and certainly not for General de Gaulle.”