A New Yalta? Can France Craft an alliance of Putin & Obama against Daesh/ISIL?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

French President Francois Hollande is seeking a new relationship with Russia after the attacks on Paris by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and the Russian conclusion that a bomb downed a Russian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai last month.

Le Monde reports that France and Russia have agreed on a “coordination of efforts” in the unfolding war. Vladimir Putin ordered Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean Sea to enter into “direct contact” with the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gualle and to “cooperate “French allies.” The Charles DeGaulle will set out from Marseilles on Thursday for the eastern Mediterranean.

Hollande will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 26 in Moscow, after visiting Barack Obama in Wahsington on Nov. 24. Hollande says he wants to construct a “great and unique” coalition against Daesh.

France and Russia both launched airstrikes against the Daesh capital of al-Raqqa in Syria on Tuesday. While some damage can be inflicted on Daesh from the air, especially if its oil smuggling infrastructure is damaged, it cannot be defeated without a land force on the ground. France went to the European Union on Tuesday to seek a declaration of collective security.

The overtures came as French police arrested 5 men in St. Denis near the soccer stadium that was attacked Friday night. A sixth person, a woman, detonated her suicide belt and blew herself up early in the raid on an apartment where three of the men were holed up.

On Tuesday, the business newspaper Vedomosti published an op-ed by Nikolay Epple and Pavel Apteka on “Common Threat and Response Options. Will Terror Threat Lead to Real Rapprochement of Russian and Western Positions?” according to BBC Monitoring

The authors note that in the wake of twin attacks, Sinai and Paris, Moscow and Paris are reaching out to one another.

The editorial wonders, however, about the limits of a grand alliance, similar to the US, British, and Soviet coalition against Nazi Germany. In Feb. 1945 at the Yalta conference in Crimea, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill jointly decided to fight on till Hitler’s defeat.

The authors say that Europe is still open to a Ukraine in NATO, which worries Moscow. Some sort of settlement still has to be made about Russian claims on Crimea and its sphere of influence in eastern Ukraine. The piece suggests that one price of rapprochement is that Putin will have to allow Ukraine to recover control of its eastern border..

With regard to Syria, a grand alliance is probably only possible, they say, if Russia gives up its project of saving Bashar al-Assad per se. Otherwise, they think Syria is the most promising arena for Russia’s reentry into world society. They caution, however, that Daesh is no Hitler and that the Russian Federation is not as powerful or important as the Soviet Union had been. The motivations for the alliance on the part of the West are therefore less powerful this time around, they say.

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Related video:

Reuters: “Russia steps up air strikes in Syria”

16 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Ukraine in NATO is a total NoNo for the russians. The creeping encroachment by the neocon plans of the last 20 years leaves president Putin in the role of Michael Romanov at the end of the Time of Troubles. NATO is an obsolete organsiation as is its concept of “US supplies the troops and Europe supplies the battlefield”

    It is down to the Syrians to choose their next President not anyone else. The big danger in Syria is that the Alawites will get massacred in any unstable solution. The war in Syria is a result of Western, Israeli, Turksish and Gulf state meddling.

    The objectives were twofold:
    1 to cut the supply lines through Syria from iran to HizbAllah
    2 to open a gas pipeline through Syria to export gas from Qatar to Europe thus breaking Russia’s stranglehold on European Energy.

    I did think to myself as I listened to the UK Foreign Secretary saying “Assad has to go”, “Who is this colonialist imperialist gobshite?”

    The project of American Empire is alive and well. I suspect Osama got it right in 1998 with his assessment of the situation..

    • Dear Eurofrank, you are right on!…

      I do not think the opposing sides can be reconciled….until the west gets off their high horse about assad must go, there is little chance of a negotiated solution. The minions, SA, Turkey, Qatar and UAE have only one position…assad must go and be replaced by sunni leadership, this from a bunch of dictatorial regimes (excluding Turkey) who would not exist a day without the US umbrella.

    • So far, NATO is not involved in Syria or in the response to the Paris attacks. So what are you talking about?

      As for your account of the motives for what is clearly a civil war, it is completely incredible.

  2. Dear Professor Cole

    One of the Dragons Teeth outcomes of the beginning of the Thirty Years war in Europe was the spreading of the insurgent message after the battle of the White Mountain when the defeated Protestant followers of Frederick the Winter King of Bohemia fled north to bang on the Doors of the Kings of Denmark and Sweden asking for help.

    Yeltsins devastation of Grosny has generated a peripatetic cadre of hardened islamic fighters .

    How do we avoid generating even more of these guys in the military destruction of ISIS by Russia and France?

    Ideas are damn hard to kill.

  3. The position the US aspired to hold in the world came with obligations; the bombings in Paris and the downing of the Russian plane demonstrate pretty conclusively that the US has failed those obligations and, like an ageing alpha male in a pride, that position is decreasingly tenable and thermodynamically irreversible. Russia’s historical ties with Europe are deep. The Russia of Peter the great had much in common with the France of Louis IV whom he visited so flamboyantly in 1717, Russian émigres were welcomed to France from the Bolshevik revolution, the last Empress consort was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, it was Russia delivered the fatal blows to both Napoleon and Hitler, Marx is buried in Highgate cemetery. It’s no big deal to roll back recent differences, It’s true NATO wants Ukraine but NATO is a US project long passed it’s shelf life.

  4. I don’t understand how this would work, given that French and Russian policies regarding al-Assad are diametrically opposed. Russia is actively helping the SAA, whereas the French line, last I saw, was that al-Assad would have to step down as part of any political solution in Syria. I believe the US and Britain have a position that he must go eventually but might play a part in some transitional government- don’t ask me how that would work, it sounds like light minded wishful thinking to me.

    But what sort of “Yalta” agreement could be forged between two states, one of which wants al-Assad to be President of Syria, and one of which wants him out of the country?

  5. Let’s hope that the Neocons and the other members of the Fifth Column won’t be able to hijack this potential alliance and direct it toward the same failed, but murderous, goals.

  6. A New Yalta or a new Paris Peace?

    The Yalta analogy is a bad one. Although it captures the ambiguities of an alliance with Russia today, it is a poor fit for the reality of the situation in the Middle East. The total defeat of Hitler allowed for a postwar settlement of sorts, one that was never ratified by treaty, but entailed Europe’s partition into American and Soviet spheres of influence. Although imperfect by many measures, it had the merit of stabilizing international relations in Europe. That in turn both brought an end to Europe’s self-destructive wars and created the space for the creation of the European Union, which, however maligned today, is a major advance over what preceded it.

    Although Daesch might approach Hitler’s Germany in its evil, it is otherwise dissimilar. It does not dominate the region; it lacks resources and capabilities comparable to Nazi Germany; and defeating it will not open the door to the stabilization of the region. The underlying problem is that the settlement imposed upon the Middle East after World War One has been unraveled, a process that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In Iraq, Daesch has fed on Sunni Arab discontent after they lost their dominant position in the old regime and then became an aggrieved minority in the new one. In Syria, by contrast, Sunnis are a majority oppressed by a dictatorship, whose base (to the extent it still exists) is in a religious minority. Daesch can no doubt be defeated by a new “Yalta” coalition, but this will hardly resolve these underlying problems that destabilize the region.

    What we need to strive for in the present conjuncture is less a new Yalta than the foundations of a new Paris Peace. The fight against Daesch is bringing together almost all the region’s major powers as well as the key outsiders with influence in the region. Israel, Iran, and Turkey can join with the US, Russia, and the EU in alliance against Daesch. To be sure they all seek something different from its defeat, but this convergence of interests can be the foundation for a new diplomacy aimed at a comprehensive settlement to the region’s problems. Such a settlement can’t be like that of World War Two, which was based on the total defeat of Nazi Germany. Nor, I think, should we want a similar settlement. It is often forgotten that World War Two ended with the completion of the work of ethic cleaning of East Central Europe begun by the Nazis as millions of people were moved, mostly against their will, to create more ethnically homogeneous nation states.

    There is no total victory to be won here. It must involve compromise. What now makes that compromise potentially possible is precisely a new recognition on the part of the US that total victory is unattainable. The Bush Administration thought it could impose its will, but its failure has brought about a new recognition of the limits of US military power that might make the US more willing to seek diplomatic solutions. Might recognition of comparative US weakness embolden others to take uncompromising stands? Perhaps, but US weakness is only relative to the fantasy world of “shock and awe”; the US remains strong enough to twist arms in pursuit of a settlement. If the Iranian nuclear deal goes well, Iran might conclude that it can benefit from compromise and international cooperation.

    What would have to be the foundation of such a settlement? Quickly:
    1. Inviolability of the national borders that emerge from it and commitments not to subvert the internal stability of other countries.
    2. Religious and ethnic minority rights, probably requiring decentralized governments.
    3. A two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    4. A significant UN presence to keep the peace.

    Is this a utopia? Perhaps, but if it is never put on the table as an option, we will never know if something along these lines is possible.

    • There is a moment of opportunity here to get all major powers to push towards a stable solution similar to what you outline, but it will require major diplomatic tact and persuasion. The US may play a constructive role if the White House stays Democratic otherwise the US will be part of the problem not the solution.

  7. Having read, among others, two articles by Robert Fisk and Pepe Escobar I’m persuaded the less France, especially under its current leadership, has to do with the ISIS/Syria chaos, the better.

    The Shadow of Algeria: the Lost Context of the Paris Attacks by Robert Fisk – link to counterpunch.org

    Paris terror attacks — who profits?: By Pepe Escobar – link to atimes.com

  8. YALTA??? Well they divided Europe with the very well known consequences of the Cold War and who knows how many times a possible nuclear exchange!! NO thank you very much. And really Putin started this policy way before the French or the UK OR the USA. THE 3 latter never agreed until PERHAPS now.

  9. For Putin, Syria is just a bargaining chip. I guess Ukraine is the West’s bargaining chip too.

    So will this grand bargain involve Erdogan, or is Turkey due for a regime change?

  10. If Hollande accepts Assad as the legitimate governator of Syria to the very same extent that Putin supports Assad as the legitimate governator of Syria . . . then Hollande and Putin can make an alliance. And if Putin and Hollande on that basis can get Obama to accept that Assad is the legitimate governator of Syria, then Obama can be part of that alliance.

    Otherwise, not. Lavrov has already made Russia’s position very clear on the non-existence of any meaningful difference between ISIS, Nusra, the so-called “FSA” ( which is deeply filled with jihadist elements) , etc. Russia wants them all defeated and rightly so.

    If Hollande still harbors conceits of over-topplethrowing Assad, then Hollande will not get an alliance. Hollande, Obama and etc. still need to come to terms with the fact that they are either with Assad and Putin, or they are with the terrorists. That is the binary choice that real-world reality gives them. You are with Assad, or you are with the terrorists.

  11. “And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.”–George Orwell

    “Nous sommes en guerre!”–President Hollande

    War, and, above all, state-sanctioned war, has almost always been bad news for democracy. Without the great state-sanctioned wars of the twentieth century the major countries of the West would all have been egalitarian democracies by now.

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