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Russia offers cooperation - but at what price?

Fiona Clark, MoscowMarch 25, 2016

Russian leaders are calling on the West to put aside its problems with Russia and work together to fight terrorism - but is that possible, or even a good idea? Fiona Clark reports from Moscow.

John Kerry und Sergej Lawrow Symbolbild Lawrow droht Kerry am Telefon
Image: picture-alliance/abaca

In the wake of the Brussels attacks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged European leaders to "put aside geopolitical games and come together to prevent terrorists from controlling affairs on the continent."

It's a call for unity from a country that also had its fair share of terrorist attacks over the past decade or so - the Beslan school bombing, the Moscow theater siege, the bombings in the metro - just to name a few.

Member of Russia's parliament, the Duma, put the message a little more strongly than Lavrov. The chairman of Russia's lower house, Sergey Naryshkin, accused Europe of playing around with sanctions against Russia while missing the real threat to peace in the region.

"The terrorists have delivered a cowardly strike on completely innocent people. At the same time, the politicians and governments from the EU and NATO countries, instead of taking resolute measures to fight terrorism, are busy announcing all types of sanctions that deeply violate the basic rights of millions of citizens," Naryshkin said.

The chair of the Parliamentary Committee for International Relations, Aleksey Pushkov, was even more direct in his tweet just after the Brussels bombings.

"In times when [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg is fighting the imaginary Russian threat and is deploying troops to Latvia, people are getting killed by blasts right under his nose in Brussels."

Maalbeek metro station with flowers and candles © DW/C. Martens
After the Brussels attacks, Russia is reaching out to the West - but what are its motives?Image: DW/C. Martens


Russia might be ready to cooperate, but is the West ready to put aside what it sees as Russia's violations of human rights and international law?

The annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in Eastern Ukraine, the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane at the hands of Russian rebels, the murder of writers and politicians who oppose government policies, the constant and strangling pressure put on media outlets and NGOs believed to have any connection with the rest of the world and the endless allegations that anyone who speaks against Russia is a foreign agent are all taking their toll on the West's patience and, in its collective mind, prove that Russia is heading in the wrong direction.

And the latest test of that patience is the 22-year sentence imposed on a young Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, who was found guilty of shooting two Russian journalists and crossing into Russia illegally, apparently as a refugee, the prosecution claimed.

According to human rights groups, the 34-year-old's trial was a political showcase and she never stood a chance of getting a fair hearing. The case moved 58 members of the European Parliament to sign a petition calling for more sanctions to be imposed on Russia and President Vladimir Putin himself.

Now though, with the heart of Europe under attack once again, an olive branch is being offered. Interestingly, speaking of geopolitics, the same branch has not been extended to its close neighbor Turkey which has lost 79 people in terrorist attacks so far this year. But, that aside, how reliable would Russia be as a partner?

For a brief moment last year, Russia was praised for its involvement in the Syrian conflict, even though its motives were questioned. Then it said it was bombing "Islamic State" (IS) targets but those on the ground accused it of bombing civilians - a claim Russia denies. It said the US refused to give it information on who it should bomb, so it followed the requests of the Syrian president.

Russian fighter jets © picture-alliance/dpa/Tass/Russian Defence Ministry Press and Information Office/O. Balashova
Russia's Syrian adventure has left many bewilderedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Tass/Russian Defence Ministry Press and Information Office/O. Balashova

Then just as abruptly as it entered the fray, Russia announced it was pulling out. These types of actions would no doubt lead Western leaders to wonder about how much you could rely on Russia as a counterpart in any operation when its actions appear to be random and anything but cooperative.

And even if the EU does choose to cooperate with Russia against terrorism, it doesn't necessarily follow that the sanctions against Russia should be dropped. Russians clearly seem to think they should, but doing one good deed may not balance out all the bad deeds that went before it.

Many in the EU may well ponder just how big a carpet they'd need to sweep all these incidents under in order to forgive and forget. IS might be a big threat, but Russia is going to have to work a bit harder to convince the world that its intentions are innocent.