Monday, November 23, 2015

Is ISIS Pushing Russia and the West Closer Together?


While the extremist leading ISIS may have no concern about the possibility of uniting Russia and the West by taking terror attacks against both western Europe and the Russia, from historical perspective, they may be playing with fire.  Over the centuries when faced with a common foe, Russia has sided with some or all of the the West.  This trend dates back to at least the Napoleonic Wars when Tsar Alexander I and Russia's armies played a major role in defeating Napoleon.   World War I saw a similar alliance against Germany and Austria-Hungry.  The same phenomenon occurred again in World War II.  With Russia's historic distrust of the Islamic peoples to its south and southeast, ISIS could perhaps be playing with fire.  A western and Russian joint effort to eradicate ISIS could turn out to be more than ISIS's leaders have bargained for.  A piece in The Economist looks at the possible growing rapprochement.  Here are highlights:
IN THE face of a common threat from Islamist terror, Russia and the West may be moving closer, if not exactly standing shoulder to shoulder. The shift in the relationship first became apparent at the G20 summit in Turkey on November 15th and 16th, where Vladimir Putin found himself the centre of attention. At last year’s meeting, amid tensions over the crisis in Ukraine, the atmosphere was so frosty that Mr Putin jetted home early. This year, in the wake of the attacks in Paris, the Russian president huddled for private chats with the American president, Barack Obama, and British prime minister, David Cameron.

On November 16th the French president, Fran├žois Hollande, announced that he would travel to Washington and Moscow in the coming days to talk to Mr Obama and Mr Putin about joining forces to fight Islamic State (IS). By the following morning, the Russian president and his security chiefs had acknowledged that a bomb brought down the Russian Metrojet flight over Egypt late last month, bringing Russia’s position into alignment with that of Western governments.

[T]he attacks in Paris have revived talk of a grand coalition. At the end of the G20 meeting, Mr Putin declared that relations had already improved: “Life goes on, everything changes: new problems arise, new threats, new challenges, which would be difficult for anyone to solve alone. We need to join forces.” On Tuesday, echoing Mr Hollande’s anger after the Paris attacks, Mr Putin promised retribution for the 224 people killed over Sinai. He announced that Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria would only be intensified: “We will search for them everywhere, no matter where they are hiding. We will find them at any point on the planet and punish them.” Russian commentators drew parallels with the anti-Hitler alliance that brought Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt together despite their obvious ideological differences.

But despite the apparent surge of mutual goodwill, serious obstacles to co-operation remain. As Vedomosti, an influential Russian daily paper, noted on November 17th: “Discussions of a united front sound pretty as long as they don’t concern details or concrete concessions.” The two sides have yet to agree on the fate of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and an ally of Moscow, whose continued rule the West opposes. Syrian peace talks in Vienna over the weekend produced a vague road map for elections, but no clarity on Mr Assad’s future. Separating an alliance against IS from the situation in Ukraine will also prove tricky.  

Ultimately, partnership requires trust, and after two years of sparring over Ukraine, there is little between Russia and the West. Having a mutual enemy will not bring an end to suspicion and animosity, not least because Mr Putin’s standing at home depends on a heavy dose of anti-Americanism. . . . . Whatever the strategic imperatives, saying “I told you so” is a poor basis for co-operation.

Whether or not an alliance will grow is difficult to know.  Personally, a grand alliance might  have many benefits - not to mention destroying ISIS and perhaps setting the stage for increased cooperation. 

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