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French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war
Château de Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris. Photo by MARTIN BUREAU / AFP

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.

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TRANSPORT

Macron’s plans for suburban train networks in French cities

Sometimes counting over 1.3 million passengers per day, Paris' suburban transport system - the RER - helps people get in and out of the city without having to rely on a car. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it might soon be duplicated in other French cities too.

Macron's plans for suburban train networks in French cities

Those commuting in and out of Paris, as well as tourists looking to enjoy a day at Disneyland, are familiar with the region’s extensive suburban train network (RER). According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it might soon be replicated in other French cities in the coming years.

In the latest in a series of short-videos answering constituents’ “ecological” questions, the President responded to the question “What are you doing to develop rail transport in France, and offer a real alternative to [travelling by] car?” by offering plans to duplicate Paris’ RER system elsewhere.

You can watch the full video here;

Macron said that building suburban train networks in other cities would be “a great goal for ecology, the economy, and quality of life.”

While he did not name any locations in particular, the president did say that the plans would concern “the ten main French cities.”

While reminiscing about his grandfather, a former railway worker, Macron added that the project would help to decarbonise transport and ease congestion in city centres.

The RER (Réseau Express Régional) system in Paris is a network of trains running across the region, connecting the suburbs to the city. The network has been expanding since the 1960s. While it now covers a large area, the network is notably less reliable than the city-centre Metro services, with users often complaining of delays and poor infrastructure.

According to Le Figaro, cities such as Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, and Aix-en-Provence have already expressed plans to develop similar suburban train networks.

Lyon, France’s third-largest city and second-largest metropolitan area, has already discussed plans for the Lyon RER, with hopes that it will be fully operational by 2035, at an estimated cost of between €1.4 and €7 billion.

As for when, the President did not give a timeline, but the Elysée told Le Figaro that the first step would be for “the orientation council for transport infrastructure” to identify which projects could be “launched first.”

The project will also be steered by France’s Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, the former Minister of Transport. When she was in this role, Borne had submitted plans to develop RER systems in different French cities.

The project to add suburban train networks across the country was met with support from the current Transport Minister, Clément Beaune, who welcomed the plans as a “major ecological and social transformation for the coming decade.”

However, not everyone is convinced. Some, like the Mayor of Cébazat in Puy-de-Dôme, have already questioned whether the Paris region concept, which would require heavy investment, could effectively be replicated smaller cities.

“It must be fully efficient,” the Mayor, who is also an expert in transportation, told Le Parisien.

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