December 11, 2015

Opportunity for Thaw—Russia & the West

By Matthew Abbott, Director, Government and Diplomatic Programs
REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev

Russian President Vladimir Putin is engaged in a risky, high-stakes game of geopolitical poker, according to Russian political activist and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who spoke to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs audience. Russian democracy, he furthered, is an institution that “has a longer losing streak than the Chicago Cubs.” 
 
Kasparov argued that as long as Vladimir Putin is in power, prospects for healthy relations between the West and Russia will remain bleak. Yet the opportunity for a thaw in that relationship may be within reach as Russia and Western countries plan their next response to the shared threat of ISIS—which claimed responsibility for the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian passenger airliner, and the coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13.
 
At the Group of 20 summit in Turkey just days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Putin suggested that counterterrorism cooperation may help to bring Russia and the West closer together. “We proposed cooperation on antiterrorism; unfortunately our partners in the United States in the initial stage responded with a refusal,” he said.  “But life indeed moves on, often very quickly, and teaches us lessons. It seems to me that everyone is coming around to the realization that we can wage an effective fight only together.” Yuri Ushakov, the Kremlin’s top foreign-policy advisor, however, noted that while President Barack Obama and Putin share “strategic goals regarding the fight against the Islamic State...they still differ as far as tactics are concerned.”
 
The fate of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is one key area where Russia and the West differ. Russia has been conducting airstrikes against rebel forces threatening Assad, even as the United States insists that Assad must go and supports anti-Assad forces. According to Kasparov, keeping Assad in power is a key component of the Kremlin strategy, and should that strategy fail, it would reveal that Putin’s “magic doesn’t work anymore.” The signal that sends to the Russian people and global community could be a decisive turning point in rolling back Putin’s aura of invincibility. Yet perhaps Putin already senses the need for a strategic shift on support for Assad, given reports that Russia now supports the UN-led negotiations for a transition government for Syria that is supposed to lead to free and fair elections.
 
Despite the tactical differences between the states fighting ISIS, the terrorist organization may be feeling the pressure of the coalition of countries now unified on the goal of ending its existence. Dr. Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, posits that territorial losses by ISIS in Syria and Iraq are leading ISIS to strike coalition members abroad with more sophisticated and deadly attacks. Pape recently appeared as part of an expert panel organized by the Council to discuss Syria and the global refugee crisis.   
 
The coming months will be a critical test of Putin’s ability to use this crisis as an opportunity to begin a thaw of Russia’s relations with the West. The hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing out of Syria and into Europe are creating a political crisis in the European Union, and Kasparov feels the ultra-right wing nationalists in these countries—Putin’s allies—stand to benefit from the resulting political turmoil. Should an increase in popular support lead to their victory at the ballot box, their electoral success may be a step toward the removal of sanctions on Russian nationals and entities.

About the Author

Matthew Abbott joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2015 as the director of government and diplomatic programs. 
 

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.
 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

Archive

Election 2016 and the Politics of Trade

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal unlikely to pass Congress and both candidates calling for it to be renegotiated, what is happening with the politics of trade this year? Iain Whitaker breaks down Council programs and polling to find out.


Public Opinion and Foreign Policy in an Unusual Election Year

Core supporters of Donald Trump are most opposed to immigrants and least likely to support free trade, but Americans overall favor continued immigration and support globalization, according to the 2016 Chicago Council Survey. Council senior fellow Dina Smeltz breaks down the report findings in a new video.





One More Question with Jonathan Tepperman

Foreign Affairs magazine managing editor Jonathan Tepperman visited the Council on September 27 to discuss foreign policy lessons for the next president. He sat down with us one-on-one to describe the biggest foreign policy issue challenge on the horizon.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

Video: What is Populism?

In advance of our October 24 conference on populism, Council President Ivo H. Daalder addresses the question of what populism is and why it is becoming such a growing force around the world.



One More Question with Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra discussed progress toward gender equality around the world with a Council audience last month. We sat down one-on-one with her to inquire what question she hoped the audience would ask. Find out what she said.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – After Trump

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. This week’s reads provide some insight into what happens when a nation turns inward and offer a picture of what America may be avoiding by rejecting the politics of Trump.


| By Richard C. Longworth

Putinism: The New Russian Ideology

A nation's self-identity is what drives its foreign policy motivations. Russia has shifted among different identities over the past two, post-communist decades. The latest, however, embodied by leader Vladimir Putin, is more authoritarian and anti-American than before.


Election 2016: What Global Issue Might Affect Your Vote This Fall?

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is engaging the public and thought leaders in dialogue critical to the 2016 elections. In part one of our “Election 2016: America in the World” video series, find out what global issues are top of mind for the public with one month left to go.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – The Roots of Western Woes

This has not been a good year for Western democracy. How did we get here? This week’s reads from Council President Ivo Daalder seek to offer some preliminary answers—shedding light on the difficult question of what is driving today’s illiberal trends around the world. 



Salam Al-Marayati on the Biggest Global Issue Facing the Next President

Salam Al-Marayati, president and cofounder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, spoke at the Council on September 23. There, we sat down one-on-one with him to inquire what he thought was the biggest foreign policy or global issue facing the next president. Find out what he said.