It remains to be seen if the French president's visit to Russia is able to create a viable and robust global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greter Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and France's President Francois Hollande, give a joint press conference after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 26. Photo: AP
French President François Hollande's visit to Moscow wrapped up his short diplomatic tour aimed at creating an effective global anti-terrorist coalition.
The barbaric terrorist attacks perpetrated on Nov. 13 had a major impact on the French authorities' assessment of the situation in Syria. Naturally, these events have brought about major changes in France: The government declared a state of emergency and then extended it for a three-month period, the police and National Gendarmerie were authorized to add 5,000 additional troops and the procedure for searching terrorist suspects was simplified.
Thus, Hollande adopted what the French refer to as a “security policy.” At the moment, the decision to declare a state of emergency is supported by over 90 percent of the French population.
Also, right after the massacre in Paris, French officials declared that their main goal now is the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). French Prime Minister Manuel Valls clearly stated, "Our purpose in not to contain, but to destroy ISIS."
Hollande shares the French Prime Minister’s opinion. During a joint press conference with U.S. President Barack Obama following their Tuesday White House meeting, Hollande said, "Our military goal is to destroy ISIS and all its strongholds, undermine its financing, track down its leaders, disrupt its networks and seize control over their territory."
Due to the current circumstances, Hollande is in a position to play a central role in the creation of an international anti-terrorist coalition. Since Nov. 13, France has stepped up its air force involvement in Syria.
The French authorities still believe that diplomatic talks must be held in order to compel Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and create a viable government of national unity. However, the military will focus on the destruction of ISIS.
It looks like this recent tour was a fruitful one for Hollande. British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to begin air strikes in Syria shortly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in by saying, "If France asks for additional support, we will not turn that request down." Obama took a similar stance by saying, "We will reclaim the territory occupied by ISIS. We will cut off their financing."
However, almost everyone in France acknowledges that objectively Russia is ISIS’s most active adversary in Syria at the present time. Even though major Paris newspapers (Liberation, Monde) have claimed that the Russian Air Force in Syria has been primarily targeting non-ISIS groups, Hollande realizes that if Russia does not join the existing coalition, the destruction of ISIS could take a long time. Still, France is a member of NATO and the U.S.-led coalition that currently includes 65 countries.
By the time that the French President arrived in Russia, it was clear that there would be no official announcement about the creation of a wider coalition with Moscow, Tehran and Damascus.
At his White House meeting with Hollande, Obama commented on the Russian involvement in Syria, stating that, "if the Russian authorities prioritize fighting against the moderate opposition that could be a part of the future Syrian government, our coalition cannot support them."
Indeed, it is hardly possible that a 21st century alliance could be cemented when events such as the shooting down of a Russian bomber by the Turkish Air Force and Saudi Arabia’s use of the UN to push a resolution through its Human Rights Committee aiming to condemn Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria occur. Inter-imperialistic differences in the Middle East are an objective reality and they cannot be dismissed with a wave of the wizard's wand.
Nadezhda Arbatova, the head of the Department of European Political Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, makes an excellent point in saying that "after the terrorist attacks in Paris and the explosion of the Russian charter plane, Russia and France are in the same boat when it comes to facing the international terrorist threat."
It is obvious that this connection was a prominent factor in changing the official French approach to cooperating with Russia on the Syrian issue. Various political forces in France ranging from the Left Front to the National Front are pushing for stronger cooperation with Russia in the fight against the jihadist threat.
The leaders of The Republicans, the main opposition party, go even further. Ex-Prime Minister of France François Fillon said, "The President should prove the validity of the alliance. That can be done by lifting sanctions against Russia."
It is common knowledge that immediately after France intensified its air strikes on ISIS, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian military "to establish direct contact with the French and treat them as allies on land and sea." To further this point, the Russian military have been making a symbolic gesture by shelling ISIS with bombs that have "For Paris!" written on them.
Aleksei Pushkov, the Head of the Foreign Affairs committee of the State Duma, stated several days prior to Hollande's visit to Moscow that "there will be no united coalition in the near future as long at the U.S. is strongly against it." He did, however, add that Moscow and Paris can form an "informal coalition" of their own in Syria.
In general, Putin and Hollande’s joint press conference on Nov. 26 confirmed Pushkov's viewpoint and summed up the results of the high profile meeting, which amounted not just to a friendly exchange between the two leaders, but also Putin's statement that "Russia and France understand the meaning of the word 'alliance.'" Still, Moscow and Paris have their differences, such as Assad’s future and regarding the situation in the Donbas.
Another important aspect of the press conference was that both Putin and Hollande confirmed that they see each other as constructive partners on Syria.
Even though both presidents acknowledged that a general global coalition is currently non-existent, they came to an agreement on combining anti-terrorist efforts, improving intelligence exchange, fostering cooperation between military experts, specifying air strike targets and intensifying the shelling of ISIS positions. As Hollande pointed out, "The only goal that we should all pursue is the fight against ISIS and the destruction of terrorists."
If this message stands true, we can definitely believe that Hollande's recent unofficial visit to Moscow, though unable to produce major results or meet the expectations of those who believed in the creation of a united global coalition, was quite productive.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.