by Han Liang
MOSCOW, March 1 (Xinhua) -- French President Francois Hollande took his debut trip to Russia on Wednesday and Thursday, with a view to boosting economic cooperation between Paris and Moscow and ironing out their political differences.
The fence-mending tour did fix some bugs, but was unable to bridge the huge cognitive gap between the two countries, experts said.
The Thursday meeting between Hollande and President Vladimir Putin was longer than expected, with a series of cooperation agreements signed between officials from the two sides.
Putin called France "an important strategic partner" during a joint press conference following the talks, while Hollande said he was in Moscow to "testify the quality" of French-Russian relations.
Historic relations united the two nations in the past. Now, as major powers and members of the UN Security Council, both countries have the responsibility to tackle international conflicts and threats, said the French president.
Analysts said the "special" bilateral relations established and consolidated by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy tends to stagnate recently due to huge divergence by the two sides on Syria. Paris utterly supported the Syrian opposition while Moscow called for the launch of an intra-Syria dialogue without setting preconditions.
During the press conference, Putin admitted he had heated debate with the French leader on Syria, with Hollande making several new proposals. Hollande said France called for a broad dialogue that would "speak to all parties."
He also urged the two partners to work together for a political settlement of the crisis, which by his estimation could be found "within weeks."
Although they proposed different approaches, Russia and France agreed in principle Syria should remain an integrated and democratic nation, Putin said.
"It seemed to me this issue (Syria) can't be resolved immediately without a bottle of vodka, let alone a bottle of good wine. We will have to sit and think," Putin told reporters.
As both sides tried to tone down their discord, the divergence was too obvious to ignore. If France would like to keep playing a leading role on the international arena, it should take Russia as a real partner, experts said.
Besides Syria, trade and economic cooperation also topped Hollande's agenda. Under the shadow of recession and a pale picture of the eurozone economy, France was looking for new markets and business opportunities in Russia, experts said.
Before meeting Putin, Hollande had addressed French businessmen in Russia and called for expanding trade relations between the two sides.
According to Putin, the two countries have maintained efficient political contact and enhanced their economic and humanitarian ties recently. To strengthen industrial partnership is crucial especially against the backdrop of global economic crisis, he said.
Putin also vowed to improve investment environment in Russia and called for relaxing visa regime between Russia and the European Union as soon as possible, so as to facilitate business exchanges between the two sides.