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


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads

Council President Ivo H. Daalder shares some recommended reads to shed important light on the global headlines this week.

| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads

Council President Ivo H. Daalder shares some recommended reads to shed important light on the global headlines this week.

| By Simon Curtis

A Foreign Policy for Global Cities?

Nonresident senior fellow Simon Curtis examines whether political paralysis on multiple issues at the national level should drive global cities to develop and advance their own foreign policy.



| By Saeid Golkar

Iran’s Secret (Weapon) Society

While the nuclear deal has been reached, US policymakers and their allies should not overlook the power of Iran's Basij—the largest civil militia on the planet.

| By Michael Tiboris

Global Goals: Can We Do More and Better with Less?

The greatest threat to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals is not likely to be the failure of the developing world, but the unwillingness of the developed world to do its part in moving toward sustainable consumption and production.



| By Juliana Kerr

Pragmatic Perspectives from the Church

President Obama and Pope Francis discussed US immigration reform this morning at the Vatican during a nearly hour long conversation that touched on numerous social and economic issues. The Pope is compassionate for the plight of migrants, speaking out and calling attention to those who died crossing the Mediterranean from Africa when he visited the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. In the United States, leaders in the Catholic Church also have been thinking hard and clearly about immigration, as seen at a recent conference at the University of Notre Dame.