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Russia key to French coalition against Islamic State group

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and French President Francois Hollande in Paris, 2 October 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and French President Francois Hollande in Paris, 2 October 2015. Reuters/Etienne Laurent

French President Francois Hollande is dining Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the latest world leader he is meeting to try to rally support for the fight the Islamic State group in Syria. After the 13 November terrorist attacks in Paris, Hollande said he wanted a bigger international coalition to fight against the group. He secured the support of Britain on Monday, and Tuesday he was in Washington.

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Germany has not been part of the coalition that has been hitting the Islamic State with air strikes, and it is unlikely to join, even now. Since World War Two been reluctant to join military missions abroad.

Earlier Wednesday Merkel said that Germany would show solidarity with France, and would send 650 soldiers to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, along with more troops training Kurdish forces in Iraq.

Merkel stressed that Germany’s commitment is to protecting refugees: those fleeing the Islamic State.

In Washington Tuesday, US President Barack Obama pledged support to France.

But the big question in this coalition is Russia.

“To make a large and united coalition, Russia is a central issue, because it is engaged in Syria,” Camille Grand, of the French Institute for Strategic Research, told RFI.

Until recently, Russia has targeting the opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

“They have only seriously been striking the IS over the past few days,” said Grand. “And we do not know if this is a strategic move, or a move to make a point after the Paris attacks and after the attack on the Russian plane in the Sinai.”

Hollande has long called for a political solution in Syria that does not involve Assad, but he told lawmakers last week that France’s focus in Syria is now on the Islamic State.

That shift will make working with Russia easier.

Russia’s ambassador to France said Wednesday that Russia is open to an alliance with France, the US and even Turkey, even after Turkey downed a Russian plane on the Syrian border on Tuesday.

Hollande will also be meeting with this weekend with Xi Jinping, the president of China, the fifth member of the UN Security Council the French President will have met this week.

Xi last week condemned the IS’s execution of a Chinese national, but military engagement is unlikely for China. Last month, Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed political talks, humanitarian relief and greater anti-terrorism cooperation in Syria.

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