Why doesn’t Russia join the anti-ISIS coalition?

There is no longer any problem but ISIS

Maria Dubovikova
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The U.S.-led international coalition continues its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). More and more countries are joining and support the coalition. It is hard and too early to judge if the conducted airstrikes are effective or not and to estimate their impact on ISIS’ capabilities.

But meanwhile yet another hostage - British aid worker Alan Henning - was beheaded, as a response to Great Britain’s decision to take part in air strikes and the ISIS fighters still strengthen their positions and take control over more and more territory.


These global efforts to counter terrorist organizations are the only way to stop the spreading of this disease and so the question arises: why doesn’t Russia join the coalition? There are several key explanations.

First of all Russia was not invited to join. The global context of the inadequate, counterproductive confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine hampers any possible effective cooperation.

And absurd declarations from the high tribune of the U.N. putting Russia on the same level of the international threats of Ebola and ISIS does not add any hope for positive change on this vital track.

Global freezing

Unfortunately, the problem of global freezing of the world’s political climate is not on the international agenda. And a NATO rebirth promises a geopolitical ice age if the chosen rhetoric stays the same.

There is no longer any problem but ISIS. ISIS is our largest problem in Syria, in Iraq, in the MENA region, in the whole world, together with Ebola and the dangerous and mad geopolitical games of numerous international players

Maria Dubovikova

Furthermore Russia and the most of the Western powers have different perception of the Iranian and Syrian involvement in the anti-ISIS operation. Russia sees these players and their governments as indispensable elements of the global front to fight the spreading ISIS threat.

That’s not the case for the U.S. and its allies. It’s impossible to imagine the U.S. openly collaborating with Iran or Syria, as with equal partners and full members of the international coalition.

Secondly, Russia’s understanding of how the international coalition should operate, how its work should be regulated, through what mechanisms, differs much from the coalition leader’s perception and as well as of its allies.

Russia stands strong on the point that the formation of the coalition should be sanctioned and approved by the existing international mechanisms of international regulation – such as the U.N. and the U.N.’s Security Council.

Extreme danger

Russia believes that the U.S. stepping over the existing fundamental elements of the global system undermines their credibility in the eyes of the international community and makes the world less stable and less regulated - and all during a time of danger and unpredictability.

Surely, the existing mechanisms need to be renewed to correspond with modern realities and new challenges. But while they are not renewed and nothing else is created and established in their place, the existing rules and laws should not be violated in order not to destabilize the relatively fragile equilibrium of the international system.

Thirdly, Russia has to be very prudent in its politics and approach towards the threat of ISIS, more than any other one country. Any wrong step could lead to a situation when ISIS would be no longer just a hypothetical threat, but a catastrophe for the whole nation.

First of all, any wrong step can push the ISIS terrorists to move from threats against Russia and President Vladimir Putin to direct actions. Furthermore as it seen from Russia, the situation with ISIS is aggravated by the fact that Russian citizens are fighting in its ranks.

The case is common for many Western and not only Western countries, hundreds of citizens of which have joined ISIS, and Russia’s Muslim majority regions of the Caucasus and Tatarstan are both traditionally attractive for extremists. The eventual return of those with real combat experience, with radicalized minds, promises nothing good, as even the strong claws of special security services will not be able to catch all of them, especially if the flow streaming back to Russia’s borders is intense.

Russia’s interest is not to provoke the return of fighters, otherwise we will witness how they will open a new ISIS frontline and launch one more “holy” war, but this time within Russian borders.

On the same side

Nevertheless, Russia is on the same side as the coalition, even if Moscow openly criticizes it and points at its imperfections.

There is really much to criticize the coalition for, starting from the lack of strategy and ending by the limited range methods, but nevertheless, Russia backs the coalition, as now there are no other alternatives and no other instruments to counter ISIS.

It tries to contribute to the global anti-terrorist efforts through its supplies of weaponry to Syria and Iraq.

For sure, Russia will never take part in airstrikes against ISIS and won’t be involved in the coalition’s activities until Moscow sees that there is a clear strategy, based on a deep analysis and understanding of the importance of the unity of regional and global players.

Russia’s approach can be criticized, even partly rejected by some players. But the idea of a truly global response to the common threat should not be rejected. Admitting it when someone else is right is a virtue, even when you are in a quarrel with the person.

Attacking the allies

Unity is power. And attacks against the allies, with whom you’re fighting the common enemy side-by-side with - as were recently made by Joe Biden - saying “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria” are inadmissible.

It’s too late to decide who is to blame, especially when the U.S. itself can also be blamed for the spread of ISIS and strengthening, but mutual accusations and splits within a coalition can be devastating for the common cause.

There is no longer any problem but ISIS. ISIS is our largest problem in Syria, in Iraq, in the MENA region, in the whole world, together with Ebola and the dangerous and mad geopolitical games of numerous international players. The coalition needs to be broader to correspond to the realities on the ground; it needs better thought-out tactics and strategy.

But even now it is much better than nothing at all. The fact that Russia refuses to take part in airstrikes and criticizes the coalition, doesn’t mean that its capacities should be either rejected or underestimated, especially when they are practically proposed. We are all in the same boat.

Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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