Deeply Divided on Ukraine, Russia and US Seek Ways to Fight Common Threats

Deeply Divided on Ukraine, Russia and US Seek Ways to Fight Common Threats

The crisis in Ukraine has greatly exacerbated the Russia-West relations making pale other threats they face together, the Islamic State (IS) in particular. With all the well-known divisions taking place, there is no alternative to joining efforts against the common enemy. The prospect of Pan-Caliphate exporting the terrorist war onto other countries’ territories is really frightening.

With ISAF leaving Afghanistan, the terrorist threat is becoming a burning issue to steal international security agenda. 

The Summit on Countering Violent Extremism took place at the White House on February 18-19. The event brought together the representatives of over 60 states. 

Alexander Bortnikov, the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, an official under the EU sanctions, headed the Russian delegation at the event. The Russian security chief said the results of his visit were positive. Russia, the US and other countries need to interact in the fight against Islamist radicals. 

The conference showed the divisions on Ukraine do not stand in the way of practical cooperation between Russia and America in fighting international terrorism. According to Mr. Bortnikov, this view was shared by US participants. He remembered the experience of joining efforts to counter terrorist threats during the Sochi winter Olympics and the 2013 Boston massacre. The Security Chief emphasized that this kind of cooperation should not be politicized, so it will be continued despite the sanctions war. «We are interested not only in information exchanges, but also in joint work», he said.

The self-declared Islamic State isn't just a Western or Mideast problem, the official noted. It's a Russian problem, too – and in more serious ways.

As many as 1700 Russians are currently fighting in Iraq alongside the extremist group Alexander Bortnikov told journalists after the conference, «and this number almost doubled over the past year». He warned that jihadi veterans might return to spread mayhem in the North Caucasus or Volga regions of Russia. According to Mr. Bortnikov’s estimates, the citizens of 100 states joined the IS extremists as the group’s strength increased from 13 to 20 thousand.

On the eve of the event State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. welcomes Russia's participation in the conference, adding that Washington and Moscow have a shared interest in fighting terrorism no matter how strong their disagreements are on Ukraine.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon today warned leaders against «discarding our moral compass» and giving into fear, as he called for «cool heads and common sense» to deal with what may very well be «the greatest test our human family faces in the 21st century». «Let there be no doubt», Mr. Ban proclaimed to a room full of high-level delegates including US Secretary of State John Kerry, «The emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups including Da’esh [or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and Boko Haram is a grave threat to international peace and security».

US President Obama emphasized «In the face of this challenge, we must stand united internationally and here at home. We know that military force alone cannot solve this problem. Nor can we simply take out terrorists who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists — the propagandists, recruiters and enablers — who may not directly engage in terrorist acts themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so».

Mr. Obama knows what he is talking about. In late January Islamic State militants threatened to behead Barack Obama and turn the U.S. into a Muslim province.

Some conference participants expressed doubt about the ability of the Obama administration to counter extremist messages, particularly from the Islamic State, which has a reach and agility in social media that far outstrips that of the American government.

«We’re being outdone both in terms of content, quality and quantity, and in terms of amplification strategies,» said Sasha Havlicek of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based research organization, in a presentation at the meeting.

In his remarks on the conference Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin denounced what he perceived as the latest American slights against Russia. He accused the United States of failing to seek Moscow and other capitals’ views on the event’s agenda, and said it snubbed Russia’s close allies, including Serbia, which was not invited to the conference. Churkin bridled at what he characterized as American moralizing about Russian conduct in the world. It’s very hard, he said, to engage in discussions of moral equivalence with Washington «because [with] the United States, of course, you always have the moral superiority.» Churkin accused the United States of pushing the United Nations to the sidelines, saying the international body should be the one that is leading in countering extremism. America’s insistence on staking out a leadership role in the fight against terrorism would only embolden jihadis to take up the fight, he added. It will «attract the extremists, you know, to fight that American-led coalition,» the official said. Nonetheless, Churkin stressed that the «possibility» of Russia and the United States «working together is out there.» But, he said, «We need to overcome this crisis» in relations and «we need to learn some lesson[s] and we need to start with a new beginning». 

The realization is growing in the West that the attempts to exploit radical Islam against Russia may backlash. The idea of «Russia’s isolation» is doomed. No way can the West tackle acute security problems without Russia’s participation and Russia is ready to take part in the process. Speaking at an annual news conference on Russia's foreign policy issues at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Jan. 21, 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is continuing to cooperate with the West on fighting terrorism despite tensions over Ukraine.

The Washington conference has once again proven the fact. 

Despite bitter differences over the fate of Syria and Ukraine, the United States and Russia still agree on one thing - the need to confront violent Islamic extremists from North Africa to the Middle East. 

Tags: ISIS   Middle East  Russia  Ukraine  US