Francois Hollande in Moscow: Encouraging Results After Wave of Skepticism

The tectonic changes are taking place in the Middle East, and in the context of relations between Russia and the West and they are incredibly fast and diverse.

After the speech of President of France Francois Hollande before the deputies of the National Assembly and Senate on November 16, when he announced his trip to Moscow in attempt to unite two anti-ISIS coalitions, the French media spread the spirit of skepticism. Commentators and journalists wrote that such a goal was unattainable. Some of these statements were purely personal opinions of the speakers, but the other ones meant an information offensive of the "friends of NATO and America," who realized that for them the critical moment came, and they need to be even more active. This skeptical media coverage also reflected the same point of view of some entourage of President Hollande.

That was the background of the declared Hollande’s trip to Moscow.

According to my estimates, the visit brought more results than expected by those who "hoped at least something to expect from the meeting." The meeting gave a lot of interesting signals both on Syria issue and on the whole spectrum of relations with Russia.

As to Syria, the parties agreed on three points. The first was the sharing of intelligence data. Secondly, Hollande and Putin agreed to intensify and coordinate the attacks against ISIS oil fields. This means the destruction of the ISIS economic potential. But the most interesting are the words of Francois Hollande, who literally are as follows: "Third, the forces fighting against ISIS and terrorist groups should not be subjected to blows of our aircraft." This is an important compromise of both sides, which should still be "checked for viability." The compromise means that France recognizes that there are other terrorist groups in addition to ISIS. This is a clear concession. But in return Russia, too, made a concession step: Moscow promised not to bomb a so called “healthy opposition”, which opposes the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but does not belong to terrorist groups.

If France and Russia are convinced that these arrangements are observed, they open the way not to a single coalition, but to a fundamental convergence of political positions of Russia and France. The next few days will give the parties an opportunity to assess whether the practice will change in Syria, whether there is a transition from words to action.

I want to draw attention to the fact that in addition to agreements on Syria the visit of Francois Hollande to Moscow brought to changes in other areas, particularly on the Ukraine issue. In recent days, many have written and said that the cooperation on Syria should not affect the hard position on Ukraine, and that Ukraine must not be exchanged on Syria. And what did we see? Properly the same day of Hollande's visit to Moscow, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls at the National Assembly for the first time called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia. Such words are very important, as the EU has developed the practice of "small silent-type” countries, which are guided by the statements of big countries. Now, these countries will act more boldly with their own opinion. And yet another "coincidence": at the same moment, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni publicly denied that Western leaders at G20 summit in Antalya agreed to extend sanctions against Russia.

The tectonic changes are taking place in the Middle East, and in the context of relations between Russia and the West and they are incredibly fast and diverse.
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