United with Putin against terror?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has just vowed to “find and pun­ish” those re­spon­si­ble for us­ing a home­made bomb to bring down a Rus­sian air­liner over Egypt in Oc­to­ber, killing 224 peo­ple. The tim­ing of his an­nounce­ment, just days af­ter ter­ror­ists used sui­cide bombs and Kalash­nikovs to kill 129 peo­ple in Paris, is no co­in­ci­dence. Putin sees an open­ing to the West, and he wants to take ad­van­tage of it. The West should not shut him out.

For weeks, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment seemed to be dither­ing over the proper re­sponse to the plane crash, as if it were wor­ried that the loss of life would be blamed on its de­ci­sion to in­ter­vene in Syria’s civil war. The blood­shed in France, how­ever, has changed the cal­cu­lus com­pletely, point­ing to­ward the pos­si­bil­ity of a rap­proche­ment be­tween Rus­sia and the West. By strik­ing Paris, the Is­lamic State has turned the Syr­ian war into a global con­flict. And, as Putin’s per­for­mance at the G-20 sum­mit in Tur­key showed, Rus­sia is firmly in the mid­dle of the fight.

It must be noted that an ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship with the West was not part of Putin’s orig­i­nal plan. “Rus­sia is part of Euro­pean cul­ture,” Putin told the BBC in 2000, shortly be­fore his elec­tion as Pres­i­dent. “I can­not i mag­ine my own coun­try in iso­la­tion from Europe and what we of­ten call the civilised world. It is hard for me to vi­su­alise NATO as an enemy.”

It was only in 2002, af­ter NATO be­gan talks to ad­mit Bul­garia, Es­to­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Ro­ma­nia, Slo­vakia, and Slove­nia, that re­la­tions be­gan to sour. As for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair de­scribed the turn­ing point in his mem­oirs, “Vladimir later came to be­lieve that the Amer­i­cans did not give him his due place.”

Putin’s bel­li­cos­ity was later re­in­forced by do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal con­cerns – a deep re­ces­sion that made it nec­es­sary to chan­nel vot­ers’ anger – and per­ceived slights, es­pe­cially at the hands of the United States (Pres­i­dent Barack Obama once re­ferred to Putin as “the bored kid in the back of the class­room”). But it was only with Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine and its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in March 2014 that Putin be­came openly con­fronta­tional, por­tray­ing his coun­try as the vic­tim of ag­gres­sion.

The West has “lied to us many times, made de­ci­sions be­hind our backs, placed be­fore us a fait ac­com­pli,” Putin said in a tele­vised ad­dress, shortly af­ter a du­bi­ous ref­er­en­dum in Crimea ce­mented Rus­sia’s con­trol over the re­gion. “This hap­pened with NATO’s ex­pan­sion to the East, and the de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture at our bor­ders.” Putin has since ap­peared to be re­spond­ing to Obama’s de­scrip­tion of Rus­sia as merely a “re­gional power” by at­tempt­ing to demon­strate the Krem­lin’s abil­ity to act glob­ally – most no­tably by in­ter­ven­ing in Syria.

At the G-20 sum­mit in Tur­key, how­ever, Putin struck a markedly dif­fer­ent tone, ex­tend­ing an open hand: “We pro­posed co­op­er­a­tion on an­titer­ror­ism; un­for­tu­nately our part­ners in the United States in the ini­tial stage re­sponded with a re­fusal… [But now] it seems to me that ev­ery­one is com­ing around to the re­al­i­sa­tion that we can wage an ef­fec­tive fight only to­gether… If our part­ners think the time has come to change our re­la­tions, then we will wel­come that.”

The logic be­hind Putin’s over­tures is clear. Rus­sia has achieved its ob­jec­tive in Ukraine: a frozen con­flict that will pro­vide the Krem­lin a con­tin­u­ous role in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. His goal now is to con­vince the West to lift its sanc­tions. As an­a­lysts at Strat­for Global In­tel­li­gence put it, “Un­less the Krem­lin is will­ing to let Rus­sian com­pa­nies de­fault on their debts or make big­ger cuts to their cur­rent oper­a­tions or fu­ture in­vest­ments in the com­ing years, Moscow will need to con­vince the Euro­peans to let at least the harsh­est sanc­tions ex­pire.”

The at­tacks in Paris have pro­vided Putin with the op­por­tu­nity to present his mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Syria as a ser­vice to the West, an ex­am­ple of Rus­sia’s will­ing­ness to per­form the dirty work of at­tack­ing the Is­lamic State in its own ter­ri­tory. And Putin is al­ready making con­ces­sions in the diplo­matic sphere. At a sum­mit in Vi­enna on Novem­ber 15, just two days af­ter the at­tacks in Paris, Rus­sia and the US seemed to set aside some of their dif­fer­ences on how to end Syria’s civil war, agree­ing to a timeline in which a new gov­ern­ment would be elected in early 2017.

The US and its Euro­pean al­lies have sud­denly gained a great deal of lever­age over the Krem­lin, and they should not be shy about us­ing it. While the West should not be quick to lift its sanc­tions – the dis­pute over Crimea is un­likely to be re­solved quickly – har­ness­ing the Krem­lin’s de­sire to be recog­nised as a great, global power is a sound strat­egy. The frozen con­flict in east­ern Ukraine can be thawed if Rus­sia is con­vinced to ob­serve the Minsk Pro­to­col, with­draw its troops from the border, and help fa­cil­i­tate lo­cal elec­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

If Putin is will­ing to cre­ate some good­will by co­op­er­at­ing in Ukraine, the West should con­sider offering some small con­ces­sions in re­turn. Rus­sia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the bat­tle against the Is­lamic State – and its re­turn to the rule-abid­ing ranks of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity – may be worth the price.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.