Moscow and Paris have agreed to share intelligence about terrorist activity as well as military operations in Syria. Both leaders, however, refused to back down from their position on the future of Bashar al-Assad.
Presidents Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin signaled a new era of Franco-Russian cooperation in Syria on Thursday during the French leader’s visit to Moscow. The two powers agreed to put aside differences over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who enjoys the Kremlin’s supports but whose position has been called into question by several Western leaders, and share intelligence on “Islamic State” (IS) and other terrorist groups.
“What we agreed, and this is important, is to strike only terrorists and Daesh [Islamic State] and to not strike forces that are fighting terrorism. We will exchange information about whom to hit and whom not to hit,” Hollande said in their joint press conference.
Hollande added that France, still reeling from a coordinated series of IS-linked attacks in Paris, planned to increase its support to moderate rebel groups also fighting IS in Syria.
Moscow mulls joining US airstrikes
Putin said Russia would consider joining the US-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against IS targets for over a year, but only if one unified code of conduct could be agreed upon.
“It should be noted that the number of countries sharing the initiative is growing,” Putin said. “We are convinced that the eradication of terrorism in Syria will create necessary conditions for reaching a long-term settlement of the intra-Syrian crisis.”
He also called the Syrian army a “natural ally” in the fight against IS, and said Assad’s fate should not be decided by outsiders.
“I believe that the fate of the president of Syria must stay in the hands of the Syrian people,” Putin said.
For his part, Hollande held fast to the position held by Western powers that Assad “has no place” in the future of Syria.
Putin blasts ‘betrayal’ by Turkey
The Russian leader also commented on the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkish forces near that country’s border with Syria on Tuesday, an incident that has led to increasingly tense rhetoric and a breakdown of relations between the two countries. Turkey continues to accuse Russia of having violated its airspace – something Moscow vehemently denies.
While Hollande commented that the downing of the plane was “serious…obviously regrettable,” his Russian counterpart had more choice words for Turkey and its ally the United States. Putin reiterated his belief that militant-controlled regions in Syria are receiving a great amount of oil supplies from within Turkey, and added that it was impossible for the Turkish air force not to recognize their jets.
Putin also went after Washington- saying the US military must have known where the plane was flying, before calling the incident an act of betrayal by Turkey, a country Russia had considered to be its friend.