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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Obama And Putin Discuss Syria At Climate Change Meeting In Paris
6 years
Russian Jet Violated Israeli Airspace -- But Israel Did Not Shoot It Down

Many world leaders are in Paris as part of an international meeting on combating global climate change. At the meeting, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines to discuss the situation in Syria and the threat of ISIS, a meeting which many are paying attention to closely in light of Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet last week.

Is there a chance of a new breakthrough?

Here is a look at the White House readout of the conversation which was distributed to the press corps in Paris:

Let's take a look at the Syria part of the readout.

First, Obama is signalling that the Vienna peace process -- which many hope will bring about a ceasefire and ultimately a transitional political process that could end this crisis -- remains a separate issue from the fight against ISIS (or ISIL, as both nations refer to it, despite the fact that Arabic scholars reject this acronym). Obama also maintains that Assad needs to leave power. The statement also throws a jab at Russia for bombing the non-ISIS rebel groups which the US supports, groups which have actually fought ISIS in the past. But the statement does, it seems, leave the door open for working with Russia if those conditions are met.

The Russian readout is similar, though it focuses on the incident between Turkey and Russia that saw the destruction of a Russian Su-24 bomber last week, however (translated by The Interpreter):

A detailed exchange of opinions took place on the Syrian issues. The leaders of the two countries advocated advancing to the start of a political settlement. US President Barack Obama expressed regret regarding the incident with the Russian military plane which was shot down by the Turkish Air Force in Syria.

The situation in Ukraine was also discussed, and the need for a rapid implementation of the Minsk agreements was noted.

Other statements made today by Vladimir Putin, however, were far less conciliatory (translated by The Interpreter):

Translation: "There is no doubt that the attack on the SU-24 was an attempt to protect the supply routes from the terrorists to Turkey."
Translation: "How can you create a broad coalition against ISIS if inside it, some are cooperating with the terrorists?"

Translation: "We have weighty evidence that oil from ISIS is coming in fact to Turkish territory."

Putin's tough talk on Turkey will not go over well with either Ankara or Washington and will make it harder to improve cooperation between Russia and NATO. However, it's hard to see how NATO and Russia could be further apart on most aspects of the Syria issue since Russia's entire goal in Syria is to support the Assad regime and prevent an opposition-friendly government from coming to power, and such cooperation might mean the complete retooling of Russia's goals.

The difference in tone between the readout and Putin's public statements also underscores something which has been a constant since the crisis in Syria began -- Moscow tells Washington one thing and then usually does something completely different.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller