Russia and Britain should beat Isil as we did the Nazis: together (by Ambassador Yakovenko for The Telegraph)
Sir Winston Churchill knew that faced with evil, Britain and Russia must stand united.
As Britain debates its role in fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), Russia and others, including France, would welcome our British partners doing their bit to defeat this evil.
As the atrocities in the Sinai, Paris, Ankara and other places show, we in Europe are in the line of fire, whether we are formally at war with Isil or not. Nobody is immune, nobody is safe. Did the half-hearted US-led bombing campaign save lives in Paris?
At the Guildhall this month, David Cameron rightly invoked the resolve of Sir Winston Churchill in the face of Nazi Germany. As early as September 4 1938, before the Munich agreement, Churchill told the Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky that he would save a bottle of vodka so they could “drink it together when Great Britain and Russia beat Hitler’s Germany”.
"Nobody is immune, nobody is safe. Did the half-hearted US-led bombing campaign save lives in Paris?"
The present situation requires the same foresight, determination and willingness to make common cause, while pushing everything else aside. Isil and other terrorists, who act under various guises, hate humanity and everything our world is based on. They are a horrible and opportunistic marriage of religious fanatics with the rump of the Iraqi Baathist regime and Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. They took advantage of the civil war in Syria to try to make a Sunni-Shia schism the pivot-point of politics in a region left suddenly to its own devices.
Only secular governance can address Syria’s problems. That is one of the core principles the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed in Vienna earlier this month.
A strategy of containing Isil is tantamount to appeasement. And on the experience of the past two months, it looks like we have had another Phony War. A year or so of the US-led coalition’s bombing saw the expansion of the Isil area of control. As Henry Kissinger put it, “inconclusive military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for Isil”.
We were told by our Western partners that Damascus would fall this past October. Should we have waited for that? If so, it would have been much harder to pick up the pieces, given that moderate, secular opposition forces are difficult to find on the ground.
The outrageous downing of a Russian plane over Syria exposes the inherent dangers of Western alliances in the region. The Turks delivered one of our pilots into the hands of terrorists.
It is high time that some regional players stopped solving problems of their own at somebody else’s expense, even by sponsoring terrorists. They must stop exporting poisonous ideology and pursuing agendas that threaten regional security. With allies like these, who needs enemies?
The threats we are facing cannot be effectively dealt with by old alliances. Is the European migration crisis not a harmful act by one Nato member against other members?
Having committed substantial resources in pursuit of a realistic strategy in Syria, Russia provided an impetus for a genuine coalition of nations able and willing to fight Isil in earnest. The ISSG provides a political framework. It helps to keep everyone on board and committed to the Westphalian principle of respect for nation states’ sovereignty. This provides a controlled environment, making the situation more predictable.
Syrians long for the peace and order necessary for reconstruction and development. We have already agreed on many things. Why not agree on the rest over time? We cannot decide for the Syrians. We can only create conditions for that, while dealing with multiple consequences of outside interference in their affairs.
To be clear, Russia makes no linkages between the Syrian situation and those elsewhere, including the Ukrainian crisis. This year, Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany made the Minsk-2 agreement, in the interests of all. The only thing missing so far is Kiev fulfilling its obligation to work with the people of Donetsk and Lugansk instead of branding them terrorists.
Britain modified its narrative in Northern Ireland to work with all sides there. For the sake of peace, Ukraine should follow that example – especially because more regions are seeking decentralisation, hoping to break the hold of the corrupt central bureaucracy in Kiev.
Alexander Yakovenko is the Russian ambassador to London