Possible Russia-West rapprochement over Syria stokes fears in Europe’s east

RFE/RL reports: France’s surprise embrace of Russia in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris has raised concerns across the former Soviet bloc that Moscow wants to leverage the fight against Islamic extremists in Syria to secure Western concessions over Ukraine.

Just days after the massacres in the French capital killed 129 people and injured hundreds of others, President Francois Hollande called for the formation of a grand coalition — including Russia — to destroy the Islamic State (IS) group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Putin followed by ordering his navy to cooperate with the French Navy in the eastern Mediterranean, where Russia has a base in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Hollande’s push for cooperation with Russia was a major pivot for France, which has been a loyal partner in the multinational U.S.-led coalition fighting IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The French government had also objected vehemently when Russia began its Syrian air campaign on September 30, saying Moscow’s ulterior motive was to keep embattled President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Former Ukrainian diplomat Bohdan Yaremenko told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on November 18 that following the Paris attacks, Putin had “created the opportunity for dialogue with the West that he had lost due to the situation in Ukraine.” [Continue reading…]

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