How Russia can sway the anti-ISIS fight

The beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts by the Libyan branch of ISIS has thrown down a challenge to Egypt and its leader. Egypt immediately responded by launching airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Libya. Following the attack, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a United Nations resolution to back the international coalition to intervene in Libya. According to the Egyptian president “there is no other choice” as the Libyan people and government called on them to act.

On the February 22, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, during a meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stressed that the U.N. shares responsibility for what is going on in Libya and that the U.N. must support the internationally recognized Libyan government based in Tobruk. On the same day, Shoukry took part in a counter-terrorist summit in Washington where he met his American counterpart John Kerry and they discussed bilateral relations as well as potential measures to counter terrorist groups. In the evening, Sisi addressed the nation and called for a united Arab force to counter the growing challenges, somehow reviving once buried pan-Arabic unity ideas amid the not so cloudless relations between Arab countries.

Sisi wants to take advantage of the current dramatic situation to lead the war on ISIS and take back decisive positions on the Middle Eastern chessboard

Maria Dubovikova

Sisi wants to take advantage of the current dramatic situation to lead the war on ISIS and take back decisive positions on the Middle Eastern chessboard. However, these brutal activities don’t meet approval and support from Western countries which, making moralists of themselves, criticize the Egyptian president for his oppression of moderate Islamists at home. Western diplomats consider the Egyptian involvement in Libya deconstructive and threatening to Libyan security and U.N. efforts in the country. Apparently they ignore the fact that the Libyan government they pretend to back, itself has asked Egypt to continue its airstrikes in coordination with Libyan leaders and appreciation toward Egypt was also expressed in an official statement by al-Thinni’s government for backing Libyans against “terrorism and extremism.” However, it’s quite clear that airstrikes cannot be very efficient, especially considering the vast sparsely populated areas of Libya and the nebulous nature of extremist groups operating in the country.

Russia fills the void

At the same time, while the West continues its unproductive policy of criticizing Sisi and continues arrogantly pretending they know solutions to all the Middle East’s problems, Russia fills the vacuum.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who was recently welcomed in Cairo, sent a message of condolence to his Egyptian counterpart and reiterated that “Russia is ready for the closest cooperation with Egypt in fighting all forms of terrorist threat.” Vitaly Churkin, permanent representative of Russia in the U.N. Security Council, doesn’t exclude Russia’s participation in the international coalition in Libya. Thus the possibility of Russia’s involvement in the international efforts to counter ISIS is no longer ephemeral, but a real one. It seems that Italian PM Matteo Renzi will have little to do during his visit to Moscow at the beginning of March, as one of the purposes of his visit, revealed by La Stampa, is to encourage Russia to join the international coalition against ISIS. However, nothing is as clear as it may seem.

Russia may deny to join the current coalition, and may demand a U.N.-backed coalition instead. Meanwhile, the draft resolution proposed by Egypt has no call for foreign military intervention despite earlier pronounced proposals. It also contains suggestions to lift a U.N. embargo on arms sales to Libya for the benefit of al-Thinni’s government. In a partnership with Egypt, Russia can assist the recognized Libyan recognized government as well as Egypt itself with arms. There are some hawkish voices inside Russia’s political establishment calling for deeper involvement in the war against ISIS after the Libyan tragedy, as many people in Russian society feel some responsibility for what is going on in the country. This is due to Russia’s abstention in 2011 during the vote in the U.N. Security Council on a resolution on Libya.

Libyan tragedy

On the one hand, it seems that Russia’s participation in countering ISIS operations, whether U.N. backed or Western backed, can ameliorate its status in the international arena, strengthen its position and improve its reputation. But these vague possible gains could easily turn in to a complete loss. ISIS has already threatened Russia several times. According to head of Russia’s Secret Service, nearly 1,700 Russian citizens have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Despite the fact that leaders of Caucasus Republics as well as Federal security forces are always on guard, no one can guarantee perfect security. Russia’s direct involvement in any coalition would mean a direct fight against ISIS. The ISIS plague knows no borders, that much has already become clear. A Caucasus front against ISIS is a very real threat and Russia will have to bear the burden.

If the international community wants Russia to take an effective part in the struggle on terrorism, it should let Russia carry on as usual – supporting the fights via military support, the exchange of information, through bilateral ties and direct cooperation. Russia needs support then it will be a strong partner and can contribute to the greater good.


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

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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