On Nov 26 following their bilateral meeting in Moscow, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the President of France François Hollande took part in a press conference in Kremlin to give a statement on the results of the meeting and answer journalists’ questions.
Mr Putin started his address by calling the concluded meeting “frank and substantive” and naming “the issue of jointly combating international terrorism” as its primary objective.
“Russia and France know what it means to act in the spirit of alliance; we have come together more than once throughout our history. Today, we agreed to step up our joint efforts on the anti-terrorist track, to improve the exchange of operational information in the fight against terrorism and establish constructive work between our military experts in order to avoid overlapping incidents and to focus our efforts on ensuring that our work in fighting terror is more effective, avoiding any strikes against territories and armed forces that are themselves fighting terrorists. Mr Hollande and I are looking at this kind of cooperation as concrete and practical input towards forming a broad anti-terrorist coalition, a broad anti-terrorist front under the auspices of the United Nations. I will note that the number of nations sharing this initiative is growing.” – noted the President.
Following the opening speech delivered by Vladimir Putin President Hollande stated: “Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that all countries in the world should take the necessary measures to coordinate their efforts to eliminate the “Islamic State”, and we should pursue this process.
…Since 2011, the chaos in Syria has created a huge wave of refugees, and over 300,000 people have been killed, and so now we need to find a political solution to this crisis, but there are requirements for this that should be followed.
We believe that the following conditions should be met if we are to ensure a political transition process. A coalition government, an independent government, should be formed during a transition period.
… it is imperative that Russia should play the main, one of the main roles in this process. I’ve told Mr Putin that France is ready and willing to work with Russia hand in hand towards our common objective, which is to fight terrorist groups, above all ISIS. It is for this reason that I believe our meeting today to be of outmost importance. Mr Putin and I have agreed on three main points.
First, we intend to step up the exchange of intelligence and any other information between our respective forces.
Second, we will intensify strikes against ISIS and coordinate them so as to enhance their efficiency.
Third, as Mr Putin has also pointed out, we need to make sure that our air strikes concentrate on the “Islamic State” and terrorist groups.
Let me tell you that Europe is about to mobilise its forces to combat terrorism. I would like to ask defence ministers from across Europe to take the necessary decisions for coordinating their actions. The United Kingdom will also participate. I spoke with Mr Cameron about this. I also discussed a number of issues with Ms Merkel yesterday. Mr Putin and I have also agreed that we will exchange information and specific actions as regards another important issue – the developments in eastern Ukraine. We will continue to work on that within the Normandy format.
Our fight against terrorism in Syria does not affect France’s commitment to find a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis.
We must fully implement all the measures that are stipulated in the Minsk Agreements. This is why I wanted to come to Moscow today to meet with Mr Putin. Mr Putin will come to Paris on Monday to participate in the climate change conference. I think the current situation and the fight against terrorism required my visit to Moscow today.”
Answering a question about the role of President Assad in the future of Syria, President Putin replied: “I believe that the fate of the Syrian president should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people. This is the first point.
Second, we all believe that successfully fighting terrorists in Syria is impossible without ground operations, and today the only force that can conduct ground operations against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other terrorist organisations, is the Syrian government army.
In this regard, I believe that President Assad's army and he himself are our natural allies in fighting terrorism. There may be other forces that claim they are willing to fight terrorists. …We have already established such contacts with some of them, and … we are willing to support their efforts in fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups, just as we support the Assad army.
We …will exchange information with France about the areas that are being held by healthy opposition, not terrorists, and will refrain from delivering air strikes at them. We will also exchange information, when we – France and Russia – know for sure that certain areas are captured by terrorist organisations, and we will coordinate our efforts with regard to those areas.”
When asked about the incident that took place on Tuesday as a result of which a Russian bomber was shot down by Turkish jet fighters and possible implications of the incident, Vladimir Putin stated: “…we considered Turkey to be a friendly state and simply didn’t expect an attack from that side. This is why we regard this attack as treacherous.
Now we see what’s possible, and our people were killed. We’re duty bound to ensure the safety of our air force. This is why we’ve deployed the modern S-400 system there. It’s a long range air-defence system and is one of the most effective such systems in the world.
However, we won’t limit ourselves to this. If necessary, we’ll support our air operations with fighter jets, and any other means, including electronic warfare systems. We have plenty of alternatives, and now we’ll use them.
This is not in conflict with what we’re doing with the US-led coalition. We exchange information with them, but now we’re very worried about the nature of this exchange and the results of this cooperation.
…The American side, which leads the coalition, to which Turkey is also a party, knew about the location and time of our operation. And this is precisely where we were hit.
…We considered Turkey not just a neighbour, but a friendly nation, almost an ally. It is very sad to see this being destroyed in such a thoughtless and reckless manner.
… It’s highly regrettable that instead of seriously analysing this issue and making sure that such incidents never happen again, we are hearing inconclusive explanations and statements that they don’t have anything to apologise for. Anyway, this is Turkey’s choice, not ours.”
Mr Hollande also offered his comment on the issue: “This is a very serious incident, and I regret that it happened. It is perfectly clear that it is necessary to avoid any risk and any possible repetition of this sort of thing at this time and place. It is critical that we refrain from escalating the situation. The only goal that we should all set for ourselves is the fight against ISIS and the elimination of the terrorists. We have no other goals. We must enhance coordination between our countries so that the armed forces present in the region and the aircraft capable of conducting air strikes do not interfere with each other so as to prevent any encounters leading to deplorable consequences and collisions. We need to do our outmost to prevent this from happening again.
…we have agreed on the need to carry out strikes against terrorists only, only against ISIS and jihadist groups. It is crucial in this respect that groups that are also combating terrorists are not targeted by air strikes. It is in this area that we intend to share information with each other, as was discussed during the meeting.
We have to understand who can fight and who can’t, who should or should not be targeted. Consequently, our current objective is to try to avoid any incidents of this kind between the countries that are engaged in counter-terrorist efforts in Syria. Second, we must identify goals that would be clear to everyone.”