French President Emmanuel Macron is meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Russia Thursday where the Iranian nuclear deal, Russia-European relations, Ukraine and trade are the main topics on the agenda.
The private meeting, which is happening on the sidelines of the two-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), comes at a time of strained relations between Russia and the West.
U.S. and European Union sanctions first imposed in 2014 on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and perceived role in a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine are still in place and have isolated — if not entirely damaged — the Russian economy, which grew 1.5 percent in 2017 after two years of recession.
In addition, Russia's suspected role in a recent nerve agent attack in the U.K., support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and alleged meddling in U.S. elections put France in an awkward position having to juggle diplomacy with the U.S. and dialogue with Europe's neighbor, Russia.
French business leader Jean-Pascal Tricoire, the chief executive of Schneider Electric, told CNBC Thursday that Macron wanted to keep the line of communication open.
"President Macron has been very clear that he wants to keep an open dialogue with all heads of state. When you look at Europe we share a large border with Russia. There are plenty of things that need to be discussed," he told CNBC at SPIEF.
"On the economic side, France has been for some years the largest investor in Russia and Russian interests on the continent are also numerous so we need to speak about those economic ties, diplomacy — what's happening in the Middle East," he said.
"When something happens in Syria, refugees are coming to Europe so that's a common concern. So there are plenty of things that we need to take care of."
Tricoire said that as neighbors, Russia and Europe had a responsibility to "organize what's happening between their countries," he said.