The physically-distanced meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was an outcome of the former's refusal to take a Russian COVID-19 test requested by the Kremlin, French and Russian sources said Friday.
Macron refused the test to prevent Russia from getting ahold of his DNA, two sources in Macron's entourage told Reuters.
As a result, the visiting French head of state was kept at a distance from the Russian leader during lengthy talks on the Ukraine crisis in Moscow, the Kremlin also confirmed.
Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was understanding of the French position and had been guided by the need to protect Putin at the meeting, where the leaders sat at opposite ends of a 4-meter-long (13-foot) table on Monday.
He said this was not about politics and had not affected the talks.
Observers were struck by images of the talks, with some diplomats and others suggesting Putin might be wanting to send a diplomatic message.
But two sources, who have knowledge of the French president's health protocol, told Reuters Macron had been given a choice: either accept a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test done by the Russian authorities and be allowed to get close to Putin or refuse and have to abide by more stringent social distancing.
"We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president's DNA," one of the sources told Reuters, referring to security concerns if the French leader was tested by Russian doctors.
A Kremlin spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message from Reuters seeking comment.
The second source in Macron's entourage confirmed Macron declined to take a Russian PCR test. The source said Macron instead took a French PCR test before departure and an antigen test done by his own doctor once in Russia.
"The Russians told us Putin needed to be kept in a strict health bubble," the second source said.
On Thursday, three days after Macron and Putin had their socially distanced meeting, the Russian leader received Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The two men shook hands, and sat close to each other, divided only by a small coffee table.