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Putin's role fighting IS

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Ingo Mannteufel
November 19, 2015

If entered into without illusions, an anti-IS coalition with Russia could make sense, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Syrien Pro-russische Demonstration vor der russischen Botschaft in Damaskus
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A coalition with Russia in the battle against the "Islamic State" is the order of the day. The presidents of France and the USA, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama, seem to moving in this direction. Germany should also join the initiative, but do it without imagining a partnership with Russia - and without imagining that it will only take a few years for the collapsing Middle East to develop into a prosperous, democratic part of the world as soon as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ousted from power.

Realpolitik is what's needed

But of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a partner in spirit. The Kremlin's aggressive Ukraine policy and Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea must not be forgotten. For this reason, sanctions placed on Russia must be maintained. Syrian dictator Assad will, obviously, never be a true partner, as he initiated the spiral of violence in Syria. His responsibility for more than 250,000 deaths and the mass exodus of the population is indisputable.

Putin's interest in an anti-IS coalition is not rooted in humanitarian ideals but instead very clearly in geopolitical interests. The Kremlin is, of course, taking advantage of the West's shock over the terrorist attacks in Paris to overcome its international isolation, push through its policies and re-establish itself as a recognized superpower. Russia's diplomatic support of Assad since 2011 is also one of the factors that has fueled the war in Syria.

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Ingo Mannteufel head DW's Russian Department

But does this all mean that an anti-IS collaboration with Russia and, via Moscow, ultimately with Assad, should be utterly ruled out? Absolutely not! Neat and tidy answers to questions of international security are seldom found surrounded exclusively by friends in cozy conference rooms.

And let's not forget: NATO member Turkey and Saudi Arabia also share responsibility for the war in Syria. It's possible to imagine some members of the "Free Syrian Army," one of the many anti-Assad groups, being capable of committing genocide against millions of Alawites after the fall of Assad. Can the West find a kindred spirit in such opposition groups? And one more concession: Many of the region's problems stem from the dangerous US interventionist policy put in place by former President George W. Bush.

Clear-cut goals and conditions

In a nutshell, instead of moralizing about with whom it is acceptable to cooperate, the Paris attacks should lead to the development of a clearly focused realpolitik - one in which specific goals and conditions are necessary.

First of all, the apocalyptic Islamic sect known as "IS" must completely be eradicated - in Syria, in Iraq and in Europe. Achieving such a step requires close military coordination with Russia and putting pressure on IS supporters in the Gulf states. After all, there is no use in lamenting the fact that Moscow has settled itself in Syria with its military bases and become an important player there. The fact that Putin is scoring propaganda points should be irrelevant for now - as long as the West stands firm on its policy regarding Ukraine.

Second, if IS is dismantled, then a conference similar to the one that created the Helsinki Accords must be held to achieve peace and stabilize the entire Middle East. Such a step will likely carry the high price tag of allowing Assad to remain in power of whatever is left of Syria. The alternative would be continued violence, endless suffering and the risk of it all spreading like wildfire to Europe, Africa and Asia.

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Ingo Mannteufel Head of IT and Cybersecurity@mannteufel