The United States, and Russia are both engaged in Syria fighting ISIS. They are at odds however in the conflict. Russia supports the Syrian government and their leadership, while the United States supports the opposition. All sides of the conflict claim to be fighting the good fight against ISIS.
The question now though is should the United States and Russia be allies in this fight? While they are not exactly on the same side, they are both fighting a common enemy with a common goal. Since the Cold War, the United States and Russia have been at odds, or what seems like a competition to see which one is better. Many doubt that they should be allies in the fight against ISIS, but lets look a little deeper.
In Syria the US has a few advisors on the ground, but most of their fight is in the air. The Russians, as well fight mostly in the skies. The difference in their techniques is that the United States has used the concept of winning over “hearts and minds”. They drop pamphlets letting civilians know when they are going to strike, so that they may vacate the area and reduce civilian casualties. The Russians on the other hand are not as careful with their targets. If any civilians are killed in their strikes they say it is to put pressure on them to not support ISIS. Human rights groups have expressed concern over the Russian’s method, they do not support the death of civilians, but the Russians believe that anyone that supports ISIS, is no longer a civilian. The targets hit are also a cause for conflict between Russia and the United States. Each country has a different opinion on what they believe terrorism is. Russia is attacking those that oppose Assad’s government and are claiming that they are hitting ISIS targets. Syrian troops have been hit, and they have claimed that Americans did it. Getting on the same page as far as who the targets are is also a big point to be made if the US and Russia were to become allies. “American diplomats insist the key to turning back the Islamic State is a political settlement on the future of Syria, which will require Moscow’s participation. Antagonizing Moscow or pushing it away from the coalition, said a senior U.S. official, could be counterproductive to the diplomatic effort, which must have priority.Diplomatic reality doesn’t mean battlefield cooperation will be any easier, officials said. Although Russian forces have increased their strikes around Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold, and other areas controlled by the group in recent weeks, they have not changed their tactics.”(1) In regards to the tactics of the Russians one US military commander had this to say, “It is not how we would fight there…It is now how we are fighting.”(1)
The governments of the US and Russia are striving to get to the point where they can work together, by developing air traffic control operations between the two to avoid any mid air mishaps between their planes. Secretary of State, John Kerry has also been to Russia for the second time in seven months, a sign of mutual interest in wanting to be on the same page. In Kerry’s visit to Moscow, the Russians have been seeking clarification on what they think the difference between a good and bad terrorist is. (2) The good and bad terrorist reference is probably concerning the difference in targets being hit by Russian and Coalition bombers. Russia is not just attacking ISIS, but have also been reported to attack the opposition against Syria’s government. I am sure that is what they are referring to when it comes to “good terrorists”
Russia’s Criticisms of the United States:
“Moscow states with regret that even after a terrorist attack against a Russian passenger plane on October 31, the US is not demonstrating readiness for establishing full-value coordination with us in fight against Islamic State”(3) Russia has believed that the United States is trying to start another Cold War with Russia for some time. They have complained of the sanctions imposed against them. “US Acting Treasury Undersecretary Adam Szubin said on Thursday the United States expected the EU to vote on extending its sanctions against Russia. According to Szubin, the US worked closely with the European Union to keep economic pressure on Russia until the Minsk accords on the ceasefire in east Ukraine were implemented in full. The US continues to firmly adhere to this position, he added.”(4) These sanctions imposed on Russia make it harder for the Russians to fight against the Ukrainians.(5) The Russians continue to deny that they have sent their military to fight against the Ukrainians and claim that Russian separatists are responsible for attacking Ukraine. Other criticisms made concern the lack of agreement in international law. Russia does not believe it needs to follow the international law that has been created by western states, Russia reaffirms that since they did not help create the laws they do not have to abide by them. It should be noted that China does not support many international laws as well for the same reason.
Eye towards the Future:
While there are disagreements between Russia and the United States and there will continue to be disagreements, it should be noted that both sides have expressed interest in working together. It may not happen as quickly as some would hope, and it may take lots of negotiations for both countries to see eye to eye, but each have acknowledged the importance and part each one plays in their own self interest. Whether it be Russia’s acknowledgement of the United State’s close ties to the Ukraine, and asking the United States to intervene with the Ukrainian government by asking them to work with Russia to bring about a ceasefire, or how American officials have acknowledged the contributions that Russia has made in Syria to help get rid of ISIS.
I will end with what Secretary Kerry said on the matter recently. “We’re at a strong beginning opening up possibilities… Together the United States and Russia have an ability to make a significant difference.”(6) What concessions will be made in order for the two strong nations to work together are still up in the air, but if each nation wants it enough it will happen.