MOSCOW // The Kremlin said on Friday that Western powers were not ready to form a coalition with Russia to fight ISIL in Syria, as France said freeing the group’s Syrian stronghold was an immediate priority of all sides fighting the extremists.
“At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work within the format of single coalition,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
He said, however, that Russia remained open to cooperation “in any format our partners would be ready for”.
His remarks came a day after Mr Putin met with French president Francois Hollande to discuss the fight against ISIL in the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
The two leaders agreed to coordinate strikes and share intelligence in what was the most concrete sign of progress from diplomatic efforts by Mr Hollande that also included talks with the leaders of the United States, Germany, Britain and Italy.
But the idea of a single anti-ISIL coalition involving Western powers and Russia did not get off the ground as US president Barack Obama is said to have given a cool response to the proposal in his meeting with Mr Hollande.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday, however, that “neutralising and eradicating Daesh” was an objective all countries agreed upon.
He added that immediate priorities for all sides in the coming weeks would be to free Raqqa, ISIL’s Syrian stronghold, as well as targeting oil infrastructure controlled by the group.
Raqqa “is the neurological centre of Daesh, where attacks, especially those in France, originated”, he said.
He added that he could envisage Syrian government troops taking part in the anti-ISIL fight, though later clarified this could only happen after a change of regime.
Mr Fabius also said that Mr Putin had asked France to draw up a map of where groups fighting ISIL are operating in Syria so that Moscow could avoid bombing them.
“He committed to not bombing them once we’ve provided that,” the foreign minister said.
Meanwhile, Turkey denied on Friday it had suspended air strikes against ISIL in Syria after shooting down a Russian warplane over northern Syria on Tuesday. Turkey, which borders Syria, said the jet had breached its airspace.
The Turkish Hurriyet newspaper said Turkey, a member of the US-led coalition fighting ISIL, had "temporarily" halted air raids against the group in Syria in order to avoid any further crises.
But a government official denied that strikes had been halted.
“At this time, Turkey remains fully committed to fighting ISIS as part of the international coalition,” he said.
Tensions between the two countries remained high on Friday, as Russia said it would suspend its visa-free regime for Turkish nationals from January 1.
The pilot of the downed Russian plane, along with a special forces soldier sent to rescue him, were killed by Syrian rebels on the ground.
They were Moscow’s first combat deaths since it launched a bombing campaign in Syria on September 30.
Russia has ruled out any military response against Nato member Turkey for the downing of its plane, but has pledged broad retaliatory measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy including tourism, agriculture and investments.
President Putin had previously warned citizens not to travel to Turkey, where affordable beaches are hugely popular with Russian holidaymakers. On Thursday, the foreign ministry urged Russians who are already in Turkey to come home, citing “existing terrorist threats”.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he wanted to meet Mr Putin “face to face” on the sidelines of the climate summit in Paris on Monday.
“We very sincerely recommend to Russia not to play with fire,” Mr Erdogan told supporters during a speech in Bayburt, north-east Turkey. “We really attach a lot of importance to our relations with Russia ... We don’t want these relations to suffer harm in any way.”
The Turkish president said Ankara did not deliberately down the plane and dismissed Mr Putin’s criticism of the incident as “unacceptable”. The Russian president has described it as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.
Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Mr Putin, said the Kremlin had received a request from Ankara regarding a possible meeting between the two leaders at the summit, and that the Russian president would be informed about it later on Friday.
However, Mr Ushakov also said Mr Putin has refused to contact the Turkish president because Ankara does not want to apologise for the downing of the Russian plane.
“We see Turkey’s unwillingness to simply apologise for the incident with the plane,” he said.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, said Ankara had crossed the line by shooting down the plane and warned the incident could severely undermine Turkey’s interests.
“We believe that the Turkish leadership has crossed the line of what is acceptable,” Mr Lavrov said at the start of talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, in Moscow.
Ankara “risks putting Turkey in a most severe situation, with respect to both its long-term national interests and the situation in the region,” he said.