In an interesting twist of events the Russian President, Vladimir Putin cancelled his forthcoming visit to France, which was due on the October 19th. There had been talk in France that they – the French- were about to downgrade the visit themselves. On October 9th, Francois Hollande, French President had stated in an interview with TMC Television, a French TV channel, that he was not sure he would meet the Russian President during this visit to France. Earlier, at the session of the Parliamentarian Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) he said,
“I consider it is necessary to have dialogue with Russia, but it must be firm and frank otherwise it has no place and it is a charade. I’m ready to meet President Putin if we can make progress on peace.”
The Syrian war and subsequent intervention of Russia in the last year have brought out, stringently, the tensions between Russia and other western powers. The French and US have been particularly vocal. Syria has become the battleground for both sides to have it out. It has become a battle of the West vs Russia, which has so far only benefited Russia. Putin through his handling of the Syrian debate, as it has been shaped, has assured Russia a larger than life and distinct position on the international arena.
The latest sparring comes after the Russians vetoed the draft resolution put forward by the French at the UNSC, in which they had sought to impose a no-fly zone over Aleppo, Syria. Moscow had argued that this would protect the Al-Nusra Front – the Islamist group that already controls large parts of Aleppo. The Russian counter offer, of sparing the civilian population from bombing, was to suggest that the group be given a safe passage out of the city, as was done in Homs. But this offer was rejected by some members of the UNSC. The Chinese Ambassador to UN expressed his regret saying that the Russian proposal had been “comprehensive, all-encompassing and balanced” .
The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, stated after the rebuff of their proposal at the UNSC, that they would consider taking Russia and Syria to the International Criminal Court for ‘war crimes’ in Syria. The French words came on heels of a similar statement given by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, in the beginning of October, saying that violations of international law have occurred in Syria and need to be investigated. However, Syria itself has never signed the Rome statute and cannot fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction. The UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, speaking in the UK Parliament yesterday, supported the French call for Russian accountability and even called for protests outside the Russian Embassy in the UK. The Boris Johnson style of diplomacy has surprised even the Russians.
Very unusual call from the Foreign Secretary to hold demonstrations in front of the Russian embassy. New form of British diplomacy? pic.twitter.com/rzxUkGyyrQ
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) October 11, 2016
However, the deteriorating relations between Russia and France, under Francois Holland, and the potential loss of French influence in the Middle East, is something that not everyone in France is happy about. In a Russia Today interview, members of right wing parties in France including the Debout la France party, reproved of the policies being pursued by Francois Hollande. They argued that France needs to have a working relationship with Russia, so that it can influence the situation in the Middle East. They also reason that Bashar al-Assad, for all his faults, should be supported so that an even worse situation does not arise. In particular, if through an outside intervention, Bashar al-Asad is removed, it would leave a chaos in the country in which the Islamists could take over. Nicholas Sarkozy, former French President along with former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon have both criticized Hollande for escalating tensions with Russia. Fillon went so far as saying that Hollande will be remembered in history as having discredited French foreign policy.
In cancelling his visit the Russian president has hit a sixer as they would say in cricket, to the French government and its time they review their bowling strategy.