(Moscow) The Kremlin explained on Friday that the long table separating Vladimir Putin from Emmanuel Macron during an interview on Ukraine was aimed at respecting a sanitary distance after the refusal of the French president to submit to a COVID-19 test in Russia.
Images of the two presidents sitting on either side of the six-meter-long white table have sparked widespread commentary, with some seeing it as a sign of Mr Putin’s coldness towards Mr Macron, which he received at the Kremlin on Monday.
“Some follow their own rules … But in this case, a health protocol is applied to protect the health of our president and that of his host,” Peskov said.
“If doctors on both sides interact, then it is possible to reduce the distance,” he added.
In recent weeks, Putin has shown greater physical proximity to some visiting foreign officials who had submitted to Russian health protocol.
“There are no political considerations on this subject” and physical distancing “does not interfere in any way with the negotiations,” he insisted.
The Élysée, for its part, justified this position by indicating that “the protocol conditions allowing an interview between the two heads of state with less distancing (contact with handshake and smaller table) imposed a health protocol that seemed to us neither acceptable nor compatible with the constraints of agenda that were ours”.
“We have chosen the other option proposed by the Russian protocol,” stressed the entourage of the French president.
Since January, Hungarian Prime Minister and Iranian President Ebrahim Raissi, two of Russia’s allies, have also sat at the Kremlin’s six-metre large table.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, on the other hand, sat in the immediate vicinity of Putin.
Health measures have been significantly tightened in the Kremlin since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Journalists are subjected to several screening tests before press conferences and Putin, 69, regularly appears several meters away from his hosts.
Macron’s trip to Moscow on Monday was aimed at easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which have steadily escalated in recent months.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders and the West accuses it of preparing aggression against that country, which Moscow denies.