Hollande’s test in WashingtonThe Day’s experts on the chances of the French president to draw US into the anti-ISIL coalition together with Russia
In Washington, French President Francois Hollande met the master of the White House, Barack Obama. This is the first international visit of the head of the French state after the terrorist attacks in Paris; he hopes to create an international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Despite the opposition of many EU member states, Hollande announced his intention to bring Russia into that coalition – the country which, firstly, contributed to the surge of Syrian migrants to Europe through military support for the al-Assad regime, and, secondly, violated every norm of the international law by annexing Crimea and continuing the military aggression against Ukraine in Donbas.
John HERBST, former US ambassador to Ukraine, member of the American Council:
“Little progress will be made toward forging an anti-ISIL coalition with Russia because neither the Kremlin nor the White House is willing to compromise on al-Assad. Lavrov said past week that the West must accept al-Assad; president Obama said over the weekend that he must go. At the end of the White House meeting on Tuesday, the two presidents may say something vague about an international coalition, but it will be more a face saver than an indication of progress towards the coalition.
“US officials fear Putin is hoping that more aggressive action against ISIL in Syria will forestall an extension of economic sanctions over Crimea, as POLITICO writes. This is a fear that many in Ukraine share. This will not happen in the short run. It has been reported that EU leaders in Antalya decided to renew sanctions in January until July. It is too early to talk now about what will happen with sanctions in eight months. But the German and EU position remains that sanctions will not be lifted or eased until Moscow fulfills its Minsk obligations.”
What can Ukraine expect from the US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv scheduled for December 7?
“My expectation is that Biden will focus on the reform measures that Ukraine needs to take. He will likely raise the problems with the Prosecutor General’s Office and the judiciary and the failure of the president to address them. As the fighting in the east has been reduced, the odds are growing that next year’s budget may reflect populist pressure in the form of reduced taxes and increased expenditures; the IMF team recently left Kyiv unhappy about the state of the budget, Vice President Biden may also talk about that. In addition, of course, the vice president will express support for Ukraine against Kremlin aggression.
“Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the president will visit Ukraine this year. But Vice President Biden is a strong friend of Ukraine and his visit will advance our relations.”
Steven PIFER, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.:
“When President Hollande meets with President Obama in the White House, Syria will top the agenda. The two presidents will discuss military operations aimed at the Islamic State or Daesh, particularly as France has significantly increased the number of aircraft it has devoted to the air campaign. They will also discuss the Vienna negotiating process and prospects for a political settlement in Syria. They may also talk about enhancing bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation.
“Hollande’s visit to Washington precedes his travel to Moscow to meet with president Putin. Hollande and Obama will undoubtedly discuss whether broader cooperation with Russia in Syria is possible. Paris appears interested in such cooperation. Washington has left the door open but seems more skeptical about prospects for working with the Kremlin. One big question is whether the Russians will adjust their targeting strategy in Syria. Over the past seven weeks, most Russian air strikes appear aimed at bolstering the al-Assad regime, targeting the more moderate opposition groups, with relatively few Russian bombs aimed at the Islamic State. If Moscow does not concentrate its attacks on Daesh, it is very difficult to see much cooperation between the Russian and Western military operations.
“The Kremlin may hope that greater cooperation in Syria would weaken Western support for Ukraine or lead to an easing of economic sanctions. The US officials say that Syria and Ukraine are two entirely separate questions and that a change in Russian policy regarding Syria would not lead to a change in American policy regarding Ukraine. German and other European officials continue to reiterate that sanctions will only be eased once the Minsk 2 agreement is fully implemented.”