The suspension of the Russia-US agreement on Syria has not become the end of diplomatic efforts to tackle the Syria’s crisis in a constructive way through talks.No wayit could be done without Russia. The US had failed but France picked up the baton. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault jetted in to Moscow on October 6 for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov before heading to Washington on October 7.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with his Russian counterpart, the French minister said it was never too late to stop the bombing.According to him, the UN Security Council members have been considering the draft resolution in a constructive manner. «We have reached some results but a few hurdles are still blocking the process», Ayrault noted. «We need to remove these hurdles so that the resolution could be approved», he added. Lavrov said Russia would propose its own amendments to the draft resolution and hoped they would be taken into account. If an accord is reached, the initiative has a chance to succeed with France becoming the chief interlocutor with Russia on Syria, sidelining the United States.
On the day of Lavrov-Ayrault talks, it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Paris on October 19. The two leaders «will discuss international issues including Syria and Ukraine», said Lavrov announcing the news.
The French president visited Russia last November to discuss joint actions against Islamic State (IS) after the Paris terrorist attacks.Back then, President Hollande called on the US and Russia to join forces. He called for the creation of a broad coalition, which would see the US, Russia and other stakeholders join efforts to destroy the terrorist group.
Despite the magnitude of the tragedy, France did not invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. A NATO missionwould be dominated by the United States, with the position of bloc’s Supreme Commander, Europe, (SACEUR) held by an American. Those days, many in France saw it as an encroachment on national sovereignty. There are anti-American sentiments in the country. Forinstance, in 2003 France opposed the US intervention in Iraq.
Instead of rushing to ask NATO for help, France invoked a never-before-used European Union mutual-defense clause (Article 42.7) asking EU partners to provide support for its operations against Islamic State (IS) and other security missions in the wake of the Paris attacks. This move is remembered today in the context of the recently announced EU plans to create its own military – the «European Army» – independent of the United States. Asked why France went to the EU for support instead of NATO, Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to Washington, answered that one of the reasons was the need to maintain «the dialogue with Russia».
Invoking the alliance’s aid would be provocative toward Moscow – something France wanted to avoid as the presidents agreed to coordinate anti-IS efforts in the region and create a joint work group. «One reason is that in vowing a strong and continued response to the attacks, France has drifted closer to Russia and to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose air force is already engaged in Syria», the Fiscal Times wrote back then.
As the French aircraft carrier approached the Syrian shore, Russian President Putin told the Russian military personnel stationed in the area, «A French Navy group headed by an aircraft carrier will soon approach your area of operations. We must establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies».
Russia and France called for a broad international coalition to fight IS. Those plans did not come through, but the reasons that pushed both countries to closer cooperation have not vanished. The need for cooperation is very much acute today.The fact that Russia and France are discussing the text of the draft resolution before it is put to vote in the UN Security Council is a good sign testifying to the fact that the cooperation spirit is still alive.
A lot depends on the outcome of the vote on the France-initiated resolution in the UN. Before the visit, the French foreign minister had launched verbal attacks against Russia. But propaganda tricks to blame Russia for each and everything going wrong in Syria would serve no purpose.It’ll be an effort to go down the drain.
On the other hand, if France takes into consideration the Russian position and formulates the text accordingly to make it acceptable for Russia, as well as other UNSC members, it will score a major foreign policy success. The French president could greatly improve his position in the polls before the election next year if he succeeded playing the role of a mediator to unify the crisis management efforts of Russia and the West in Syria. It will also boost he country’s international standing, as well as the role of leading actor in Syria.
Russia is ready to work on this text provided it does not contradict the US-Russia ceasefire agreement or other UN resolutions, Lavrov said at a press conference with his French counterpart.
Russia also welcomed the new initiative advanced by Staffan de Mistura, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, aimed at putting an end to fighting in Aleppo.
The success of crisis management efforts in Syria does not boil down to the position of the United States. There are other actors ready to come up with initiatives of their own.Russia has stated it is ready to meet such efforts halfway and keep up its end of the bargain if the proposed deals go through. But Moscow rejects pressure. Its position must be taken into account. Progress can be made only if the initiatives launched by France and the UN special envoy are not used as methods of waging information war to impress public instead of providing a basis for constructive engagement and reaching tangible results to save many thousands of Aleppo residents from the horrors of living under terrorists’ rule.