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Russia Says It's Planning Joint Anti-ISIS Operations With France

A French sailor checks a Super-Etendard fighter jet on the deck of France's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before it leaves its home port of Toulon on Wednesday. France has deployed its aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean to help fight ISIS.
Claude Paris

When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position near Syria's coast, it will find what until recently might have seemed an unlikely ally: a Russian guided missile cruiser. A U.S. official says Russia is newly receptive to cooperation in Syria.

"Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," says Colonel-General Andrey Kartapolov of Russia's General Staff, according to state news outlet Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations."

The carrier left its French port Wednesday, on a mission that has even greater significance now than it did when it was first announced on Nov. 5. The warship also left one day after Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered his navy to work with the French force as allies.

"Life indeed moves on, often very quickly, and teaches us lessons," Putin said, as the Two-Way reported. "It seems to me that everyone is coming around to the realization that we can wage an effective fight only together."

Providing the U.S. view of the new development, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that if Russia is more cooperative now, it might specifically be because of its military intervention in Syria.

Admitting that his logic is "almost counter-intuitive," Blinken says that when Russia started bombing targets in Syria, two things happened: First, it increased Russia's influence over Syria's President Bashar Assad; second, it placed pressure on Russia to bring about a political solution, because the country's leaders realize they can't sustain a Syrian offensive indefinitely.

In France, chief foreign editor Rob Parsons of FRANCE24 says cooperation between Russia and the West could be a game-changer if the nations involved can agree on Syria's future — and on Assad's fate.

"If [the French and the Russians] are going to cooperate together, they'll presumably have to coordinate their targeting," Parsons says. "It's extremely complicated, it all goes out to the heart of the problem of finding a joint solution on Syria."

Both the French and Russian forces are now striking at targets within Syria — and today, Tass says Russia's pilots have been told to hunt down and destroy tanker trucks that ISIS is using to move crude oil and petroleum products as part of its finance operation.

Citing Kartapolov, Tass reports, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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