This week’s meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Yemen and Syria reinforces concerns that were raised when America’s top diplomat met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
It is feared the Obama Administration may be taking a softer stance on the Ukraine Crisis at the expense of broader and long-term Western interests. Indeed, the likes of Vladimir Putin benefit from framing US interests in terms of a chose between holding Russia accountable for the Ukraine Crisis and defeating the Islamic State.
America’s greatness as a nation rests in its military might and the will of its people, but its greatest strength as a global power stems from its ability to build alliances through good will and the pursuit of humanity’s common interests. Unfortunately, this also means the United States relies on the willingness of often-unreliable partners to achieve its global aspirations.
The willingness of European leaders to tease six former Soviet-states with closer ties, yet not actually offer anything substantial in their so-called Eastern Partnership Summit, suggests Europeans may be awaiting Washington’s next move. Waning European support in tackling the Ukraine Crisis is likely dependent on whether the Obama Administration is willing to endanger Russian cooperation in Syria and Iraq.
Before the Ukraine Crisis erupted, Russia dominated Ukrainian politics. From the Russian perspective, European leaders provoked Russia by trying to strengthen its ties with former Soviet States.
Throughout the Ukraine Crisis, Putin has, at times, presented an almost blasé mentality toward allegations of Russian involvement in Ukraine’s civil war and Western sanctions. Engaging in a propaganda campaign of distorted versions of reality and blatant deception, Putin often appears to see the situation as a game or even a joke.
His demeanor over the last year suggests he views the Obama Administration’s policies toward his government as theatrics conducted to make the US look good, until it can save face while submitting to Russian willpower.
Where the West views Russia’s provocative military stance throughout 2014 and 2015 as a sign of things to come, the Putin government would like the world to believe relations will normalize once the West halts its intrusions into Russia’s sphere of influence.
When it comes to tackling the Islamic State, Putin wants the world to believe the United States needs Russia. Even as Russia intervenes in Syria and Iraq, this does not mean the United States needs or must accept Russian cooperation, especially if that cooperation comes at the expense of Ukraine and results in Russia’s long-term dominance of Europe.
With the Islamic State nearing the Assad regime’s capital Damascus, there is the potential both enemies of the West and Syrian People will weaken or neutralize each other. On the other hand, there is also the potential that the Islamic State will be able replenish its ranks in Ghouta by joining forces with rebels under a government blockage.
Meanwhile, Islamic State successes like the fall of Tikrit and Ramadi as they push forward to Baghdad create a serious threat to Western interests and Middle Eastern stability.
Putin appears to believe this puts Russian, along with its allies Iran and Assad, in a strong position to force Western governments to look past their trespasses.
That said, it is also important to recognize cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, with growing US support, is changing the dynamic of the war. Speculating on the bombing of a Shia mosque in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia by Islamic State operatives, it would appear the attack was intended to stress sectarian tensions. Given Saudi Arabia is intervening against the Islamic State, which is a Sunni group, this attack with either do nothing or rally greater Shiite support for the Kingdom’s efforts against ISIL.
Should the Islamic State topple the Assad regime, it will have to gain the support of Syrian to stay in power, but its violent, extremist nature undermines its ability to govern and maintain the support of the population. It is acts like the aforementioned bombing of the Shia mosque rally Muslims against the Islamic State instead in support of them.
Furthermore, recent gains by the Islamic State do not necessarily spell disaster. For months, the terrorist group has been dealt significant blows. The push for Damascus and Baghdad could very well be a desperate move to reassert its influence. Just as in Kobani, this could prove detrimental to the terrorist group. Militants tends to quickly succumb to superior airpower when they attempt to hold onto territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may feel as though recent developments in the Middle East and Europe give him leverage over the United States, but that is necessarily true. The situation with the Islamic State may not be as dire as Putin would like the West to believe while the Obama Administration has more than just two options. Given the threat of a domineering Russia has not changed, it is best for the US and Europe to stay the course in their attempts to wrangle Putin.
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