Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a France visit after Macron invited him to inaugurate a major exhibition on France-Russia ties. The exhibition has been organized to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the visit of Peter the Great, the Russian emperor, in 1717.
Relations between France and Russia, two major European as well as global powers, have been strained over Syria and Ukraine. Putin had cancelled his France visit in October 2016 after Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande made it clear that Syria was the only agenda for a France-Russia talks.
Ignoring the global calls for isolating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin has been standing firm to support him, morally and militarily. Russian fighter jets pounding Syrian rebels and Islamic State bases are a regular occurrence. Almost all major western nations are against al-Assad. If he is standing tall even after that, it is because of Russian support only. Assad got another big world power in his favour when China, in August 2016, announced to join Russia in providing humanitarian assistance and military training to Syria. Then Syria has Iran’s support. Shiite Iran has a religious connect to defend the Syrian government of Alawites, a Shia offshoot, and strategic interests in defeating Syria’s Sunni rebels.
Also, Russia and Putin have always defended Syria even if the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons against its own citizens. A suspected chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib city on April 4 killed around 100 people after which the US had launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase it thought was used to launch the chemical attack. Russia defended Syria saying Syria did not use chemical weapons and the toxic substances released were stored by rebels where the Syrian forces carried an air strike. In February 2017, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council Resolution aimed to impose more sanctions on Syria for using chemical weapons.
But intelligence reports say otherwise. A BBC report earlier this month, based on intelligence documents, said Syria was still making chemical and biological weapons at three sites. The report further says that both Russia and Iran are aware of it. Also, a Human Rights Watch report published earlier this month said there was evidence of use of nerve gas by Syria in multiple chemical attacks.
Emmanuel Macron has drawn his red line against this belligerence of Syria. Syria could not have escaped the wrath of the global community had it not been for Russian and Chinese interventions. Macron was a harsh critic of Russia during his campaign days and even if he invited Putin to France, he promised a tough talk with the Russian President and said he would be demanding, a France 24 report said. Macron thinks “dialogue with Russia is vital in tackling a number of international disputes”, the report further said.