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Allies with benefits: The cost of a coalition with Russia

If the West unites with Russia, it will help destroy Islamic State. But the long-term results may not be pretty.


 
A handout frame grab from video footage published on the official website of the Russian Defence Ministry 18 November 2015 shows Russian TU-22M3 long-range strategic bomber dropping OFAB-250-270 bombs at targets in Syria. (RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS/EPA)

A handout frame grab from video footage published on the official website of the Russian Defence Ministry 18 November 2015 shows Russian TU-22M3 long-range strategic bomber dropping OFAB-250-270 bombs at targets in Syria. (Russian Defence Ministry Press/EPA)

Terrorism can forge strange alliances. Among the many repercussions stemming from the massacre of 130 people in Paris by the Islamic State jihadist group may be a thawing of relations between Russia and Western nations that have shunned it since Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea last year and launched an unofficial invasion of eastern Ukraine.

French President François Hollande has called for Russia and America to join a “wide and single coalition” against Islamic State, noting the international community has been “divided and incoherent too long.” American President Barack Obama has said he would welcome military co-operation with Moscow, provided Russia is willing to focus its military efforts against Islamic State and not other rebel groups opposing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Related: Obama and Putin huddle at recent G20 summit

The Russians appear more enthused. Ever since Russia began its military intervention in Syria earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin has called for a grand coalition against Islamic State. But much of Russia’s air campaign, especially in its early days, ignored Islamic State and instead hit rebel groups that more directly threaten the regime of Russia’s ally, Assad.

Russia, however, recently suffered an act of terrorism by Islamic State that was even deadlier than the attacks in Paris. The group has claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in October, killing all 224 on board. Aleksei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, says Russia and the West share a common enemy and should put aside their differences to combat it. “We have had disagreements in the past, in the 1930s, but that didn’t stop us from creating a coalition against Hitler, and it was effective,” he says, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Related: Vladimir Putin’s new world order in the Middle East

“It sounds very nice theoretically,” says Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. The trouble, she says, lies in the different ideas Russia and the West have about Syria’s future. Most Western nations say Assad cannot continue to rule Syria, in part because his barbarism functions as an effective recruiting tool for Islamic State. Putin says the West’s refusal to engage with Assad has been “an enormous mistake.”

“Russia’s goal is to keep Assad in power—or, if there’s going to be a successor, to have a similar ruler so that they can maintain their influence,” says Stent. Russia has a naval base in Syria and has recently established a military presence at an airport in Latakia from where it conducts its air campaigns.

Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, likens Assad to a “bingo chip” that Moscow will play when it suits them. “The Russians want to protect their strategic assets as long as they can. But once it becomes too costly, and when there is a political situation that pleases the Russians, they’ll let him go,” he says.

Civil defense members extinguish a military vehicle at a base controlled by rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Movement, that was targeted by what activists said were Russian airstrikes in the south of Idlib province, Syria October 1, 2015. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Civil defense members extinguish a military vehicle at a base controlled by rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Movement, that was targeted by what activists said were Russian airstrikes in the south of Idlib province, Syria October 1, 2015. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Russia’s initial intervention in Syria was designed to give it a say over the country’s future. If Putin crafts a co-operative military relationship with the West, that influence will increase. It’s a potential outcome that worries Syrians who want to see an end to Assad’s regime and believe any rehabilitation of it will only strengthen Islamic State. “Daesh and Assad are related,” says one Syrian in Paris, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. (She didn’t want her name published because she has family in Syria.) “Daesh exists because Assad exists, and Assad exists because Daesh exists.”

According to Techau, any military co-operation between the West and Russia in Syria would likely be temporary: “At some point the political goals that are quite different will become more visible again. But for the moment that co-operation, that tacit agreement, can still hold,” he says.

But Putin is looking beyond Syria. He sees partnership with the West in Syria as a way to make Russia seem an indispensable part of the global community—too important to be isolated and punished. “He would like the Europeans to forget about Ukraine and start lifting sanctions,” says Stent.

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, a former ambassador to Canada, understands why Hollande is reaching out to Russia. “To his own people, he’s doing the right thing. He’s trying to find anything at his disposal to counter the threat,” he says. But Prystaiko says if Russia uses co-operation in Syria to normalize relations with the West, it may feel emboldened to repeat a Ukraine-style intervention elsewhere.

“If they are getting back in the game, who knows where they will send another rocket,” he says.


 

Allies with benefits: The cost of a coalition with Russia

  1. Given how gutless both Obama and Trudeau are about actually fighting Islamic terrorists (CBC is still calling them militants) I’m glad Putin is involved.

    If he sees 10 terrorists using a school as a firing line…he’ll just bomb it. To hell with what the lawyers and UN types think or say. And he won’t even wait until the kiddies are out for recess.

    Village being used by terrorists to plan terrorist attacks? Easy…..level the entire village.

    Barbaric yes….but also very effective. Won’t be long before the folks who live there realize that ISIS terrorists just bring trouble wherever they go. They won’t be welcomed long.

    Go Putin !!

    • Yes! Let’s change the War On Terror to the War ForTerror!
      If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.

      When do we start bombing France and Belgium?

      • We don’t have to bomb France and Belgium Tresus…that’s the point.

        There are thousands of muslim’s in those nations who hold citizenship, and want to bomb it themselves. No need for us to help.

        • You just said you wanted to destroy “Village(s)being used by terrorists to plan terrorist attacks”.
          I hope you’re not having second thoughts about bombing villages in France and Belgium.

          • Once again, Tresus is arguing comments that he made….not me.

            you need to work on the comprehension Tresus…lol.

          • Aw, poor jameshalifax doesn’t know that towns in France and Belgium have been used to plan terrorist attacks.
            Reality never intrudes on jameshalifax’s imaginary world.

  2. As much as I hate Putin – I agree with his strategy in Syria.

    If we look through recent history:
    Iraq – dictator overthrown with Western help – now an ISIS stronghold
    Libya – dictator overthrown with Western help – ISIS holds a chunk of it
    Egypt – dictator overthrown with Western help (admittedly not much) – Muslim Brotherhood elected – and military coup followed to prevent leader from taking absolute power (becoming a more powerful dictator).

    At least Russia has a plan for what to do with (part of) that region after we ‘win’ the war.

    • Western is nebulous yet you don’t include China and Russia together.
      Egypt looks like a model of success. All of the above three scenarios are very different.
      I had a conversation yesterday (to me at least) apparently with someone in the NSA. Apparently someone made contact in 1951. The goal was to prevent Communism from winning (the world). For example, in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Indeed the NSA’s rudimentary attempt to make LSD contact failed and an employee publicly died.
      The NSA isn’t aware of anyone in the KGB who is in contact. They say/guess China’s IA doesn’t even know how to approach the concept of contact. I relayed the NSA individual’s question about who is an assassin risk and was told is the NSA (an ill employee in the future I assume)…I’m working out a social media mental health/treatment app that can be turned on louder in a pandemic.

      • Apparently my biosensor in the future is a WMD, and a Select Agent pandemic is blamed on me. The NSA doesn’t contract after Al Qaeda is wiped out (after attacking its only potential ally). Just for kicks it surveils me. And it gets my dual use future sensor. And an ill employee uses it to make a pandemic.
        8-9 years after I invent the sensor, someone else (a leading researcher not a terrorist org) invents it. It can help decontaminate a pandemic and slow the spread. So the NSA should only surveil people and not the technologies too closely. PR can be used to ensure this. PR whether for me vetting a utilitarian employee screening system or for ensuring WMDs are not being hacked by the NSA, leads to AI, but not with the present generation of computers. So 1st I need to make better social distancing. Then both biosensors and distancing. And the biosensors need to be treated like nukes. And the people hacking biocontractors should be arrested and tortured until they admit to killing JFK.
        He treated Cuba as if it were terrorists. They only wanted WMDs after Castro was targeted hundreds of times. That is like the Taliban. Apparently Al Q and ISIS would have the poorest country on Earth (WMD inspections mandatory) and it would eventually fall. But the Taliban might be able to govern their own country. AL Q and ISIS view most of the world as infidels and make killing infidels their motif. Castro got JFK on his 1st try with Russian help. Russia could use its advisors to form the elements of a de facto Parliamentary Democracy.
        The NSA will have to learn how to surveil people without surveilling the technologies. Social distancing needs solar & wind offgrid power. Food such as mulch to a bioreactor and food comes out (a protein plant would help); enough for 1-2 years. And water purification or filtration. And various technologies will have to be capped in a way that does not lead to tyranny by the NSA and doesn’t accidently reveal the technologies. Eventually you get food from the carbon in the air and have space colonies. These biosensors seem necessary but social distancing is a precursor. Offgrid power should be gvmt funded and awarded by game shows.

  3. Vladimir Putin is a cynical, exploitive, manipulative Chekist, KGB thug and cannot be trusted at all. His ONLY concern is maintaining power and getting Russia out from under the economic sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of its illegal annexation of Crimea and armed aggression in eastern Ukraine. (Remember Ukraine?) He has proven by his disregard for international law that he CANNOT be trusted or relied on to be a reliable ally. The enemy of my enemy is my friend does not apply here at all and the West should be loathe to take Putin’s bait of cooperation against ISIS. NATO should take that lead in dealing with ISIS.

    Russia and the West where allies once before against a common threat but the moment that threat was defeated the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin turned on the West. Before the ink was dry on the German Surrender document Russia under Stalin began breaking EVERY agreement made at Yalta and Potsdam regarding postwar Occupied Germany and Eastern Europe. They installed communist governments in the countries then under Soviet occupation in violation of the Yalta agreement that stated that FREE elections were supposed to be held and it took almost 50 years before that wrong was righted. Look at those old pictures of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta and you will see Stalin with a “smile” on his face but as we are all too aware of now, it wasn’t a smile of friendship was it. BEWARE of smiling Russian dictators with their arms outstretched in “Friendship” lest history repeat itself

    • Stalin was Georgian not Russian. Communism was an internationalist anti-nation plow designed to destroy Russia, the leaders were not Russians. Putin’s Russia is not communist, I am not sure I would say the same for Obama’s USA.

      • “…I am not sure I would say the same for Obama’s USA.”

        Then clearly you don’t know the meaning of the word.

        • Obama is funded by Soros, Soros is definitely a communist.

    • Good lord, are you still stuck in the Cold War era? Longing for those days, are we?

      Ukraine has traded one corrupt leader, for a more corrupt leader in Poroshenko, who is firmly tucked into Soros’ pocket. Porky is also keen on cleansing all the Russian blood from the eastern part of Ukraine, which, of course, we much turn a blind eye to.

      NATO can’t destroy ISIS, as they had a hand it it’s creation.

      You need to wake the hell up.

  4. Let me see here a choice between a mild mannered London educated optometrist from a secular sect that is all likelihood cypto-Christians, compatible with western values, or liver eating takfiri islamic radicals.
    Your kidding right, there is no choice at all, Russia is in the right here and the anti-Assad propagandists are with the terrorists.

    • Nothing says “mild-mannered” like raping, torturing and incinerating civilians with barrel bombs.

      • Barrel bombs are just bombs, I fail to see how adding the word barrel to bomb makes in more sinister. A bomb is a devise that explodes causing destruction, this is true if it dropped from a CF-18, a US F-16 or a Syrian helicopter. Why would the Syrian Army drop them on civilians when there are all ready more terrorist targets then they can handle. The US was bombing ISIS terrorists for years and wasn’t able to destroy them, how is the Syrian army supposed to do it?
        The Syrian regime is fighting the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever seen, ISIS and Al-Nursra (Al Queda affiliate). Even the so called moderate FSA is a sectarian Sunni outfit that has thinks its ok to kill non-sunni women and children.
        The Syrian regime is not pretty by Western standards, but they are still a secular regime that protects the rights of Syrian ethnic and religious minorities. A far preferable situation to the ISIS/Al Qaeda/IS/DAESH takfiri terrorists. The “rebels” are very open about there plans for ethnic cleansing and genocide if the regime falls. The Druze, Alawites, Christians and Ismali of Syria will be raped and slaughtered if they are allowed to win.

        • “Barrel bombs are just bombs, I fail to see how adding the word barrel to bomb makes in more sinister.”

          I entirely agree. Incinerating civilians with barrel bombs is just as awful as incinerating them with any other bombs.
          The distinction is that the barrel bomb is an indiscriminate, inaccurate weapon, which is ineffective against fortified positions. It’s purpose is to terrify, demoralize and depopulate areas outside of Assad’s control.

          “The Syrian regime is not pretty by Western standards, but they are still a secular regime that protects the rights of Syrian ethnic and religious minorities.”

          By “protects the rights” you obviously mean “torture, rape and kill any opposition”.

          • I think we can agree that in this particular conflict…there are no good guys. Let them bomb the shit out of each other for a good long time. The less the merrier.

          • No. We don’t agree.
            You’re a POS who is happy to see men, women and children slaughtered.
            I’m not.
            It’s a subtle difference, I know.

          • No Tresus,

            You are a phoney who proclaims to care about people in other nations, but simply refuse to do anything to actually help them. here’s a hint Tresus….simply “saying” you are a good guy..doesn’t make it true.

            as for being “happy” to see women and children slaughtered..sorry, once again you are putting words out there that I never wrote. I would be happy to see the ISIS terrorists slaughtered however, and no, I wouldn’t care if they all came out with their hands in the air. If they were in range, I’d shoot them right in the face and not be bothered a whit by it.

          • “once again you are putting words out there that I never wrote. ”

            You’re projecting. That’s what you did in the previous paragraph in which you shared your fantasies about me.

            Putting words in your mouth is more effort than I can be bothered with:

            “If he sees 10 terrorists using a school as a firing line…he’ll just bomb it. To hell with what the lawyers and UN types think or say. And he won’t even wait until the kiddies are out for recess.

            Village being used by terrorists to plan terrorist attacks? Easy…..level the entire village.
            Go Putin!!”

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