Putin takes Syria spotlight; US coalition wants focus on IS – Washington Post
By Nataliya Vasilyeva and Sylvie Corbet | AP,
PARIS — Vladimir Putin entered talks Friday around Syria’s fate after an intervention that ensured Russia’s role as a major player no matter what the outcome.
In the space of a few days, Russian airstrikes in Syria and Putin’s diplomatic maneuvering at the U.N. first raised hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough — then brought fears of a new proxy war with the West. And they have suddenly overshadowed a Paris summit Friday meant to focus on the conflict in Ukraine.
Russia fighter jets have kept up a sustained rhythm of airstrikes since Wednesday. They carried out 18 sorties in the past 24 hours, including 10 overnight in which seven sites were bombed, the Defense Ministry said Friday.
Putin meets French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday at a tense time. All the leaders, like President Barack Obama, are concerned about Islamic extremists who have seized territory and power in the chaos of Syria’s civil war — and now threaten attacks abroad.
But Russia and the West don’t appear to be bombing Syria for all the same reasons.
France, firmly opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, also started airstrikes this week targeting Islamic State extremists as part of a U.S.-led coalition. Russia says it’s targeting extremists too, but Western officials say Russia is using the air campaign as a pretext to go after anti-Assad rebels that include CIA-backed groups.
Allies in the U.S.-led coalition have called on Russia to immediately cease attacks on the Syrian opposition and to focus on fighting Islamic State militants. A joint statement by France, Turkey, the United States, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Britain expressed concern that Russia’s actions will “only fuel more extremism and radicalization.” The statement was released Friday by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and confirmed by the French Foreign Ministry.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday rejected suggestions that the airstrikes were meant to shore up Assad, Moscow’s main ally in the Middle East.
Lavrov insisted Russia was targeting the same militant groups as the U.S.-led coalition, which is conducting its own airstrikes in Syria: the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, the al-Qaida-linked Jabbat al-Nusra and other groups.
The Russian Defense Ministry statement Friday said the …Read More