Only Russia has a clear goal—we should join it or stay outby Rachel Polonsky / October 9, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
As David Cameron prepares the way for a vote on bombing in Syria, Britain faces an ugly choice: whether to back Russia in targeting Islamic State, if that also means propping up President Bashar al-Assad—see James Harkin’s July 2013 cover story and Bronwen Maddox’s piece “Which side is Britain on?”. That is clearly Russia’s goal, and its deployment of aircraft and other forces gives it the upper hand. Rachel Polonsky argues here that this is the best course. Many would disagree, and see backing Russia—and Assad, whose military has killed so many Syrians—as a false answer and the fuel for civil war or for the country splitting. But many will agree, too, that the west has to talk to Russia—and that it has no clear plan of its own.
After Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Barack Obama at the United Nations on 28th September, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova was relayed live from New York to the Moscow studio of Special Correspondent, a popular talk show on Russia-1, the state-owned television channel. The theme was the end of the unipolar world order—of the west’s ability to shape the world as it would like, above all the Middle East. “We would prefer not to have been right,” Zakharova said, with the more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone of an exasperated schoolteacher.
If in the Middle East, she continued, we saw a single example of a developing democratic state with flourishing citizens of the kind that the advocates of the unipolar world promised their methods would bring, perhaps we might trust the west’s proposals. Instead, we see nothing but poverty, ruin and terrorism, and an evil spreading across continents, threatening Europe and our own country. Quoting the most resonant line in President Putin’s speech to the UN General Assembly—“Do you, at least, realise what you’ve done?”—she lamented that there were still actors on the world stage who seemed not to grasp that it was time to collaborate on a logical strategy to defeat Islamic State (IS).