Russia and France — both targets of devastating blows by ISIS in recent weeks — yesterday struck a pact to team up in Syria, even as experts warn their widely disparate views of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad may roil their fresh alliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public vow, made yesterday after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Kremlin, centered on the countries sharing more information and cooperating on selecting targets in Syria.
“We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists,” Hollande said after the meeting, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym. “And we are going to exchange some information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck.”
Putin — whose forces have been focused on bombing enemies of Assad rather than ISIS — said he’s also ready to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition of 60-plus countries.
“We view the U.S.-led coalition with respect and stand ready to cooperate with it,” Putin said.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the brutal Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, as well as the Halloween bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt that killed 224.
But Putin and Hollande remain far apart on how they view Assad — a key issue in the approach to the war-torn region. Russia is a staunch supporter of the president and has been bombing his enemies in Syria, while France and the U.S. and many of their allies are eager to see the brutal dictator unseated.
Hollande yesterday said the Syrian head of state “does not have his place in Syria’s future,” while Putin called Assad’s army a “natural ally” in the battle against ISIS and said “the Syrian president’s fate should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people.”
“If you can’t even agree whether Bashar is the problem or the solution, I don’t see that there’s much basis for collaboration,” said John Pike, a security expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org.
Russia and the U.S. — which has been hitting ISIS in its Syrian air strikes — have had vastly different “targeting philosophies,” agreed Rex J. Brynen, professor of political science at McGill University.
“The problem from the coalition’s point of view is whether the information (Russia would share) is accurate,” Brynen said.
That conflict erupted last week when Turkey downed a Russian plane that had been attacking Syrian Turkmen — enemies of Assad and allies of Turkey.
“I think he (Putin) is playing a double game. He’s making kissy-face with some countries and not so much with Turkey,” Pike said. “Russia and Turkey are so alienated at this point, I just don’t see how other Western countries can work closely with Russia right now.”
While pledging closer cooperation, Putin also blasted the U.S. for failing to prevent the downing of the Russian plane.
Hollande, who has been on a diplomatic drive since the Paris attacks to increase cooperation in tackling ISIS, met this week with President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi before flying to Moscow yesterday for talks with Putin. Merkel’s cabinet decided to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to help in the fight against ISIS.