Putin, Merkel and Hollande discuss Ukraine, Syria

Putin, Hollande, Merkel and Poroshenko in Minsk, 2015. [Kremlin]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed peacemaking efforts in Ukraine and Syria during a conference call yesterday (18 January), a Kremlin statement said.

A Kremlin statement said the three leaders expressed “dissatisfaction” with efforts aimed at resolving the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, citing an “escalation of the situation” in Donbass province.

According to the statement the leaders stressed the importance of stepping up joint efforts to de-escalate tensions in southeastern Ukraine and ensuring consistent implementation of the Minsk-2 provisions, including an “all for all“ exchange of detained persons as soon as possible.

“It was agreed to give an additional impetus to the Normandy format activities. In this regard, plans are in place to hold a series of meetings at various levels in the near future,” the statement said.

It also said Putin informed his counterparts about preparations for forthcoming talks on Syria backed by Russia and Turkey that are to take place in Kazakhstan on 23 January.

Russia-Turkey rapprochement

Russia and Turkey are the main organisers of a new round of Syrian peace talks and have set aside their differences over the political fate of President Bashar al-Assad to try to forge a wider Syria deal.

The talks come in the context of a ceasefire declared by Russia and Turkey at the end of last month that has reduced, but not ended, fighting between pro-government forces and rebels that began almost six years ago.

Russia said yesterday its war planes had joined forces with Turkish jets for the first time on Wednesday to target Islamic State militants holding the town of al-Bab in northern Syria, evidence of increasingly close cooperation between Moscow and Ankara.

Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian Defence Ministry official, said that nine Russian jets and eight Turkish war planes had together struck targets in al-Bab, which is located around 40 km northeast of Aleppo.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants Turkish-backed rebels to capture al-Bab to prevent Kurdish militias from doing so. Rudskoi said the joint mission had been conducted in agreement with the Syrian government.

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He said the Russian air force was also providing air support to Syrian government troops trying to fight off an Islamic State assault around the town of Deir al-Zor.

The town’s civilian population could be massacred if Islamic State took Deir al-Zor, he said.

Russian jets were also backing a Syrian army offensive near the town of Palmyra, said Rudskoi, who added that Islamic State militants were planning to blow up more of the ancient city’s historical monuments.

“We have received information, confirmed by several sources, that a large amount of explosives has been brought into the Palmyra area and that the terrorists plan on destroying the city’s world-class historical legacy,” he said.

Significant numbers of Islamic State militants fleeing the US-led coalition offensive against Mosul in neighbouring Iraq were streaming into Syria “almost unobstructed”, Rudskoi said.

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