France Shuts Its Moscow Export Office, Citing Russian Obstruction

(Bloomberg) -- France’s Foreign Ministry said it decided to shut down a Moscow outpost in charge of supporting businesses in Russia as local authorities hampered diplomats’ work.

The French embassy said the working environment had “deteriorated considerably” over the past few months.

“The conditions on the ground didn’t allow Business France to carry out its public-service mission to assist French companies on the Russian Federation’s territory,” it wrote in a statement on its website.

The unit was shut shown on July 16 after the local authorities ruled it was no longer allowed to operate in Russia as an entity governed by French law, like other diplomatic operations, France’s embassy said. The embassy said it considers Business France to be part of its diplomatic efforts.

The decision came a day after President Emmanuel Macron held a bilateral meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow ahead of the World Cup final. Macron was among the star guests at this year’s St. Petersburg Forum in May when he also had lengthy talks with Putin.

The French authorities said Russia expelled the head of Business France in Moscow earlier this year, despite the fact that he held a diplomatic passport. Russian authorities also froze the unit’s bank account, illegally, the embassy said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said France had decided to close the unit after ignoring requests to either re-register the body as a non-diplomatic entity or sign a new inter-governmental agreement.

“This step by our French partners goes against the overall determination of French business not only to maintain its presence in Russia but to expand promising areas of cooperation,” the Russian ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

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