On May 31 - June 1 Vladimir Putin made his first visit abroad since his inauguration. He started with Minsk, where he set his priorities in favor of the Eurasian Union, then visited the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and new French President François Hollande. He did not have any disagreement on Syria with Merkel, but Hollande tried to persuade Putin to get rid of Assad.
The meeting with Merkel was marked with kisses on the cheek and warm relations. At a joint press conference, Putin warned that a civil war in Syria has almost started, and called the situation in the Arab country "extremely dangerous". He stressed Russia's long-standing relations with Syria, but denied that he supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
"We do not supply him any weapons that he can use against the rebels", Putin said. There has been no response to this statement, although it was clearly made with the idea of further clarification. Indeed, there is a Russian contract currently in the process of execution to supply the Syrians PBRK "Bastion" and supersonic anti-ship cruise missile "Yakhont", as well as contracts for the supply of 24 fighters MiG-29M/M2 and eight air defense systems "Buk-M2E." All these are not weapons for urban warfare.
Both Putin and Merkel demanded to use only a "political solution" to the conflict.
The visit to France did not go that smoothly. On the eve of the visit Hollande, with some uncharacteristic for the novice in politics persistently, claimed on TV that he would try to persuade Putin to change his position of Syria, particularly in relation to al-Assad. He urged so strongly that caused Putin to show emotions. Hollande said that Assad's regime conducted itself in an unacceptable manner. To which Putin replied: "As for al-Assad, he visited Paris more often, so let's take a look at the issue from this side." Hollande reacted: "I do not take responsibility for it, it was a different era."
Hollande did not rule out a military solution to the problems of Syria, and he is convinced that this option is pretty much a priority because he does not believe in the mission of Annan. Comments of the French to the claims were somewhat surprised. Involving the Republic in the conflict is not that difficult, but why would the French need second Afghanistan? Perhaps, the newly elected President does not have to start with such pushy actions and put pressure on Putin. First, it is useless, second, there is no leverage, and third, he has no international authority Nicolas Sarkozy had when he rendered support to President Medvedev in the South Ossetian conflict.
The positions of Paris and Moscow differ in terms of shared responsibility for the conflict between the Syrian regime and the rebels and what is meant by a "political solution". If Putin insists on the implementation of Annan's Plan, Hollande called for increased pressure on Assad through new sanctions.
Putin says that Russia supports neither Assad nor his opposition, but simply wants to put an end to violence and bring all parties to the table. "We have very good long-term relationship with Syria. But when I hear that Russia has some special interests, it is a complete fallacy," the Russian president said. "We have neither the volume of trade and economic ties nor military cooperation. The only thing we care about in the Syrian issue is possible radicalization of the situation and it getting out of control, the death of innocent civilians," said the President. He believes that the West does not adequately cover the situation in the country where both sides are killing, not just the government forces.
Of course, Russia has its interests in Syria. If not, then why declare its intention to sign an agreement with Syria on free trade zone, which happened on May 25? Does the Russian naval base in Tartus and 4-billion-dollar contracts for the supply of arms present no military and strategic interests? What about the 50 thousand Russian citizens residing in Syria and 1200 Russian military technicians providing assistance?
Another thing is that in relations with Syria, Russia sticks not to a person, but the state. With the advent of the next stooge of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood represented by the free Syrian Army, the foothold in the Middle East can be bid farewell. This is the opinion of another opposition leader, the leader of the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change Haytham Manna who recently held a meeting in Moscow with the Russian leadership.
It is worth noting that not only Moscow but also Berlin is annoyed with Hollande, according to the German Spiegel. The representative of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs Ruprecht Polenz said that even the air operation, as in the case of Gaddafi, is impossible because of the power of the Syrian army, incomprehensible situation, reminiscent of the Civil War, and the heterogeneity of the opposition. This suggests that Hollande, while acting on emotion, is demonstrating incompetence.
However, the leaders of Russia and France agreed on the assessment of the situation with the ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Hollande said that he and Putin agreed that her place was not in jail. Putin praised France for its stance on U.S. missile defense system in Europe. France, according to Putin, was "one of the few countries that has not only listened, but heard" Russia. The agenda for collaboration is developed. Francois Hollande has accepted the invitation to visit Russia next year.