Russia plays down idea of coalition with West to strike Islamic State in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting at the Kremlin, Oct. 20, 2015.


By ANDREW ROTH | The Washington Post | Published: November 27, 2015

MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Friday played down the possibility of a grand coalition with the West to strike the Islamic State in Syria, despite personal visits by French President François Hollande to both Washington and Moscow following a spate of horrific terrorist attacks tied to the terrorist group.

"At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work as one coalition," Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman, told reporters during a conference call on Friday.

Peskov's comments came less than 24 hours after Putin sounded hopeful notes at a meeting with Hollande in the Kremlin, where he said Russia "was ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States."

But Russia has sought cooperation on its terms, providing diplomatic and now military shelter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attacking rebel groups that include the Islamic State but also more moderate opponents of Assad backed by Western countries. President Obama and other Western leaders have sought to bring Putin into a U.S.-led coalition instead, a force that Putin has called illegal because it is launching airstrikes in Syria without Assad's permission.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius raised the prospect Friday that Assad's troops could be used against the Islamic State, but only in the context of a political transition in Syria that would remove Assad from power, French news media reported. The Islamic State, a heavily armed al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS and ISIL, has declared a "caliphate" in tracts of Iraq and Syria under its control and has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks against Russia and the West.

The opposing goals of Russia and Assad's opponents burst into conflict Tuesday, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane that was allegedly in its airspace. Russian and Turkish political analysts have said the plane was more likely targeted because Russia had been bombing Turkish-trained Turkmen rebels in Syria's north.

One pilot of the Su-24 attack aircraft was killed after parachuting from the stricken plane. Another was rescued, but a Russian Marine was killed in the operation.

Putin called the shootdown a "stab in the back" and has refused to take phone calls from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since.

"There have been requests from Erdogan of a telephone conversation in the past two days," Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters Friday, the Interfax news agency reported.

When asked why Putin had not taken those calls, he said: "We see Turkey's nonreadiness to bring elementary apologies over the aircraft incident."

Erdogan has also formally asked for a meeting with Putin when the two join other world leaders in Paris on Monday for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Peskov said Putin has been informed of the request but has not said whether he would meet with Erdogan.

Russian is introducing widespread sanctions against the Turkish government because of the shootdown. The Russian government took aim at deep tourism ties between the two countries on Friday, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would cancel a free-visa regime with Turkey, a move that would likely be reciprocated by the Turkish government.

Putin's two-month-old intervention in the Syrian civil war was seen as a way for Russia to break out of international isolation after the West imposed sanctions over Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Peskov said Putin and Hollande on Thursday did not discuss the possibility of repealing the European Union's financial and individual sanctions against Russia.

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