French President Emmanuel Macron warned against showing any weakness towards Vladimir Putin -- while insisting he wants to work with the Russian strongman -- in remarks broadcast Sunday on the eve of his state visit to Washington.
"He's strong and smart. But don't be naive. He's obsessed by interference in our democracies," Macron told Fox News Sunday, ahead of his departure for the United States, where Russia stands accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
"I do believe that we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it," Macron said in the English-language interview.
"And it's fine. That's a game, that he made a lot of fake news. He has a very strong propaganda, and he intervenes everywhere... to fragilize our democracies. Because he thinks it's good for his country."
"I think he's a very strong man, he's a strong president. He wants a great Russia," added the French leader. "He is extremely tough with minorities and his opponents, with an idea of democracy which is not mine."
"I respect him. I know him. I'm lucid. I want to work with him, knowing everything about that," said Macron, who described himself as having a "permanent discussion" with Putin, although they were "disaligned on a lot of things."
Relations with Russia will be one of the issues topping the agenda this week as Macron is hosted by President Donald Trump, whose time in office has been clouded by suspicion that his campaign conspired with Russia to tilt the election in his favor, and by his own ambivalent attitude to Moscow.
Macron's comments also came as foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations gathered in Toronto to seek a common front against what they view as Russian aggression in Ukraine, as well as Russia's role in supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime, and an alleged attempt to kill a defector on British soil.