Sunday 21 January 2018

Obama: Russia will join US in fight against jihadis

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change in Paris, France. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change in Paris, France. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP

Angela Greiling Keane

Russian President Vladimir Putin is beginning to realise the limits of his military intervention in Syria and ultimately will join the US and other nations to help end the country's civil war and fight Isil, US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

Since entering the Syrian conflict on September 30, Russian forces have accomplished little while suffering both military and civilian casualties, Mr Obama said at a news conference in Paris.

He cited the Russian passenger plane that was brought down in Egypt shortly after Mr Putin's Syrian intervention, in an attack claimed by Isil, and a Russian military jet that was shot down by Turkish forces last week.

"I think Mr Putin understands that with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in an inconclusive and paralysing civil conflict is not the outcome that he's looking for," Mr Obama said.

"It is possible, over the next several months, that we'll see a shift in calculations by the Russians and a recognition that it's time to bring the civil war in Syria to a close."

Mr Obama said that talks in Vienna among international diplomats, including Russia, to enact a ceasefire in Syria are "moving forward steadily."

Russia and the US remain at loggerheads, however, over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally who Putin is attempting to reinforce with his intervention in the war.

The US insists that Assad cannot remain as the nation's leader in any political resolution of the conflict.

Mr Putin also accused Turkey of secretly purchasing oil from Isil, and claimed that the decision to shoot down a Russian warplane last week was motivated by the desire to protect the flow of oil from the terrorist group.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, denied the allegations and said he would resign if it could be proved that Turkey had bought oil from Isil.

Turkey and Russia have been engaged in a bitter war of words since Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border on November 24.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan traded accusations as they took their respective turns at the podium at the summit on climate change in Paris.

"We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory," said Mr Putin.

"We have received additional information which unfortunately confirms that this oil, produced in areas controlled by Isil and other terrorist organisations, is transported on an industrial scale to Turkey."

The Russian president also refused to meet Mr Erdogan while both men are in Paris, and Moscow announced punitive steps including banning fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey.

Mr Erdogan, for his part, warned Russia not to "play with fire" in Syria.

"Mr Putin says he who applies a double-standard to terrorism plays with fire," he said on Monday. "I completely agree with that. Supporting state terrorism in Syria, which has claimed 380,000 lives, is playing with fire."

Mr Erdogan has refused to apologise for the shooting down of the Russian jet, though he said on Saturday that he was "saddened" that it had taken place.

That was insufficient for Moscow, which denies that the plane violated Turkish airspace and demands a formal apology.

Turkey claims the jet, which had just completed a bombing mission over Syria, had entered its airspace and was given a series of warnings before being shot down.

The US State Department announced on Monday that its analysis supports the Turkish version of events.

Mr Obama has called on Turkey and Russia to reduce tensions over the downing of the Russian jet.

After meeting with Mr Erdogan in Paris, Mr Obama reiterated America's support for "Turkey's right to defend itself and its airspace".

But he added that Russia and Turkey should "de-escalate" tensions over the incident.

Irish Independent

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