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Puppy diplomacy? Why Russia and France work together against ISIS

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Russian Interior Ministry Press Service/AP

(Read caption) A Russian police officer holds a puppy named Dobrynya. Russian Interior Ministry said Friday that it will send a puppy to their French counterparts as a sign of solidarity in hopes that a puppy will take a place of French service dog 'Diesel' which died in a special operation held in Paris on Nov. 18

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Russia offered to send France a puppy to replace Diesel, the French police dog killed in an anti-terrorist operation Wednesday, as a "sign of solidarity" with France. 

"Our four-legged friends also serve the police, protecting society from terrorist threats," Russia's police said, according to the AFP.

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The Russian interior ministry's video of a small, fluffy German Shepherd puppy playing ball with a Russian policeman contrasts sharply with the macho image President Vladimir Putin has cultivated.

The use of such "puppy diplomacy," coming amid other gestures of solidarity with France, may mark a shift in strategy from the pugnacious attitude Russia has projected in Europe since invading Ukraine. 

The last time Russia made notably conciliatory overtures to the West was in 2013, when Mr. Putin supported a US demand that the Syrian government turn over all of its chemical weapons – after a poison gas attack in Syria. Putin helped negotiate an internationally monitored removal of chemical weapons from Syria, sent a gloating editorial to The New York Times, and ramped up its invasion of eastern Ukraine less than 12 months later.

Since then, relations between Russia and the West have been tense. They have become more so in the last two months, with Russia's decision to conduct airstrikes in Syria. While vehemently supporting the Syrian president's position with the international community, even inviting the embattled Bashar al-Assad to visit, Russia bombed the very Syrian rebels the US had been trying to arm for years starting Sept. 30, the BBC reported. 

It would be easy to read too much in to the puppy-to-Paris offer. It may simply be a small human gesture of sympathy. Or, it may be indicative of Russia, Europe, and the US finding common ground in the fight against ISIS (aka the Islamic State) – but not on other contentious issues. 

The attacks in Paris came just two weeks after a Metrojet airliner bound for Moscow was blown up in mid-Air. Russia has drawn parallels between the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, and the ISIS-claimed bombing of that killed all 224 on board, which Russia officially agreed was an ISIS terrorist attack on Tuesday, reported the Guardian. 

Putin spoke by phone with French President Francoise Hollande Tuesday about increasing and coordinating strikes against ISIS in Syria, reported Reuters. He is also calling for "the widest international cooperation" in fighting global terrorism. 

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Russian servicemen have been writing, "This is revenge for our dead" and "This is for Paris," on bombs and missiles before launching them at targets in Syria, the BBC reported. Since the Paris attacks, Russia's airstrikes in Syria have intensified to reach 800 targets, although the targets have included Syrian rebels fighting the Assad government as well as ISIS.

Russia has been asking for weeks to coordinate with the US in strikes against ISIS, but military leaders are worried about Russia's "reckless" tactics, which endanger civilians, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"I wouldn’t cooperate with Russia militarily,” retired Col. Peter Mansoor, professor of military history at Ohio State University in Columbus told The Christian Science Monitor. That said, "Russia has a role to play diplomatically."


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