MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Friday played down the possibility of a grand coalition with the West to strike the Islamic State in Syria, despite personal visits by French President Francois Hollande to both Washington and Moscow following a spate of horrific terrorist attacks tied to the terrorist group.
"At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work as one coalition," Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman, told reporters during a conference call on Friday.
Peskov's comments came less than 24 hours after Putin himself sounded hopeful notes at a meeting with Hollande in the Kremlin, where he said Russia "was ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States."
But Russia has sought cooperation on its terms, providing diplomatic and now military shelter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attacking rebel groups that include the Islamic State but also more moderate opponents of Assad backed by Western countries. President Obama and other Western leaders have sought to bring Putin into a U.S.-led coalition instead, a force that Putin has called illegal because it is launching airstrikes in Syria without Assad's permission.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius raised the prospect Friday that Assad's troops could be used against the Islamic State, but only in the context of a political transition in Syria that would remove Assad from power, French news media reported.
The opposing goals of Russia and Assad's opponents burst into conflict on Tuesday, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane that was allegedly in its airspace. Russian and Turkish political analysts have said the plane was more likely targeted because Russia had been bombing Turkish-trained Turkmen rebels in Syria's north.
One pilot of the Su-24 attack aircraft was killed after parachuting from the stricken plane. Another was rescued, but a Russian marine was killed in the operation.
Putin called the shootdown a "stab in the back" and has refused to take phone calls from Erdogan since.
"There have been requests from Erdogan of a telephone conversation in the past two days," Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters Friday, the Interfax news agency reported.
When asked why Putin had not taken those calls, he said, "We see Turkey's non-readiness to bring elementary apologies over the aircraft incident."
Russia is introducing widespread sanctions against the Turkish government because of the shootdown.