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Putin meets Hollande: France and Russia getting closer

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is meeting his French opposite number, Francois Hollande, Thursday evening, as France seems keener than ever to bring Russia in from the cold to join its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition force.

The meeting is going ahead as Russia and Turkey are embroiled in tit-for-tat recriminations over the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish military this week and whether it occurred in Turkish or Syrian airspace. The incident has quickly become one of the most potentially alarming clashes between Russia and a NATO member for years, and is the first time a Russian plane has been shot down by a NATO member state for close to five decades.


The shooting down of the jet comes at a tense time in relations between Russia and the West: on one hand Moscow's intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has led to substantial sanctions and, on the other, there are increased calls for a more united international effort to solve the civil war in Syria.

For many, it is a reminder of how difficult greater cooperation with Russia could be, and "undermines hopes that cooperation could see a softening in Russian sanctions" according to Tina Fordham, chief global political analyst at Citi.

Why does France seem to be taking the doctrine of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" more seriously than other Western powers?


IS fight

After the tragic attacks in Paris which killed 129 people, Hollande has hardened his stance on the fight against IS and pledged an additional 600 million euros ($636 million) on additional security spending. The more significant military heft is added to a planned anti-IS coalition, the better – even if the problem of Russia's allegiance to Syria's controversial leader, Bashar Assad, whom U.S. President Barack Obama called a "brutal, murderous dictator" last week, has yet to be resolved.

One of Hollande's most immediate wishes is trying to seal the porous border between Turkey and Syria, which seems to have been a route followed by many IS fighters. This move has already been backed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Sanctions split

France's luxury goods, wine and cheese makers were some of the worst hit by sanctions imposed by Russia, in retaliation for Western sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Hollande has been one of the European leaders to most publicly raise the possibility of these sanctions being loosened.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) is greeted by French President Francois Hollande (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on October 2, 2015 in Paris, France.
Sasha Mordovets | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) is greeted by French President Francois Hollande (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on October 2, 2015 in Paris, France.

The current round of sanctions against Russia expire on January 31, 2016, but their continuation or otherwise should be decided at the 17/18 December European Council. One mooted compromise between those states, like Poland, which favor a harder stance against Russia, and others like France and Italy which have adopted a softer line, could be an extension for a shorter time than the typical six months.

"An extension requires unanimity among member states, but as long expected, this is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve," analysts at Teneo Intelligence pointed out in a research note.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle