Putin, Russia and the West: After Paris & Sinai, G20 summit is bad news for ISIS terrorists

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a group photo at the G20 summit with the participation of representatives of guest countries and international organizations in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015. © Mihail Metzel
Patient, consistent Russian diplomacy has trumped short-term Western hypocrisy. Reduced to desperation, NATO leaders finally attempted a rapprochement with Moscow at the G20.

The current schism between Russia and the West began in September 2011. Speaking at the United Russia party congress, then President Dmitry Medvedev announced his intention not to seek a second term and advised his party to select Vladimir Putin as its Presidential candidate. The American elite were roughly as enthusiastic about the idea as Donald Rumsfeld would be at the prospect of visiting a peace rally. From that moment, Russia has been under an unprecedented barrage of negative Western propaganda. From insulting its leaders and voters to gloating at Russia’s recent economic setbacks, the information war has been unrelenting.

In 2013, the hostility escalated. America began to aggressively and illegally intervene in Syria’s Civil War. Of course, the incumbent Damascus government it opposed was a long-term ally of Moscow. Later that year, the US sponsored the Maidan movement in Russia’s neighbor, Ukraine. A few months later, Washington actively backed a violent coup in Kiev which unleashed a civil war in the country. American interference went as deep as choosing the fractured state’s new ruling administration.

Russia’s responses were reactionary. US intervention had destroyed a delicate ethnic and religious balance between western and eastern Ukraine. Fearful of the Maidan regime’s militant Russophobia, and its public alliances with neo-Nazi elements, the ethnic Russian south and east of Ukraine sought Moscow’s support. Putin obliged by supporting rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk and reversing a Soviet-era edict which transferred Crimea to Kiev's control, against the wishes of the majority of its residents. In response, NATO and EU members instigated punitive sanctions on Russia. The Kremlin responded with counter-sanctions on their agricultural produce.

By mid-2014, the atmosphere was toxic. In the compliant Western media, Putin was portrayed as being somewhere between Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin. In fact, Britain’s unelected head-of-state in waiting, Prince Charles branded him the “same as Hitler”. Meanwhile, a prominent American senator and failed Presidential candidate, John McCain, dubbed Russia “a gas station masquerading as a country.”

Dignity in a time of hostility

Amidst this barrage, Russians kept their dignity. While Barack Obama openly mocked Russia, Putin continued to describe America and its allies as “partners”.

As America’s campaign against Syria’s government and ISIS became bogged down, Putin upped the ante this autumn by launching Russian airstrikes against the terrorists. Washington’s tactics had been bipolar. Simultaneously attacking both ISIS and the only forces capable of actually defeating it in combat. The Kremlin’s focus was consistent by comparison.

At first, the Western media machine continued its anti-Russian campaign. An American neocon comic, The Daily Beast, even alleged that “Putin was giving ISIS an air force.”

This ridiculous narrative was picked up by Washington’s useful Russian idiots like Garry Kasparov.

The nonsense wasn’t confined to the US. In London, The Daily Express alleged that Britain’s RAF was authorized to shoot down Russian planes.

This, despite Westminster refusing to authorize British involvement in the first place.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. A Russian airliner was destroyed by an ISIS bomb, killing 224 innocents. Indeed, The Daily Beast’s editors are lucky to be so detached from planet reality. If they had a shred of decency, they’d have noticed that blowing up a civilian passenger jet would have been a strange way for ISIS to repay Russia for its supposed efforts in providing them with an air force. After the Sinai attack, the Western media’s anti-Russian narrative imploded. Most readers are not stupid.

Paris horror

While Russia was mourning its dead, ISIS struck in Paris. At the time of writing, 129 people had been confirmed dead, with more than 350 injured. In the aftermath, French President Francois Hollande spoke of uniting Russia and the West to destroy ISIS at last. Ironically, this is exactly what Putin proposed in September at Sochi’s Valdai meeting.” A union, "similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” to annihilate the terrorists.

At the G20, all had changed. In the 2014 Australian summit, Western leaders had tried to make Putin a pariah. The host, Tony Abbot, threatened to physically assault him, using a bizarre Australian Football term, “shirtfronting.” David Cameron publicly mocked him at the same time, Canada’s subsequently deposed Prime Minister Stephen Harper barely shook his hand.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin prior to a working session at the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. © Kayhan Ozer

This year’s reaction was rather different. Barack Obama was snapped deep in conclave with the Russian leader on Sunday night. The following day, the pair were photographed sharing a joke. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s stance had shifted 180 degrees. For his part, Putin even admitted that London had been sharing intelligence with Russia in the wake of the Sinai atrocity.

Unsurprisingly, Putin wasn't happy to simply accept pats on the head from his "partners." He revealed Russian evidence that ISIS terrorists appear to be financed from 40 countries, including some G20 member states.

Putin also spoke of the urgent need to curb the illegal oil trade by IS. "I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products," he said. “The motorcade of refueling vehicles stretched for dozens of kilometers, so that from a height of 4,000 to 5,000 meters they stretch beyond the horizon." Putin compared the convoy to gas and oil pipeline systems.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged America's change in stance.

But life is always evolving and at a very fast pace, often teaching us lessons. And I think that now the realization that an effective fight [against terror] can only be staged together is coming to everybody,” the Russian leader added.

The new reality

As a non-Arabic speaker, I can’t claim to understand how ISIS thinks. Of course, this fails to prevent some American neoconservative activists who also can’t speak the tongue from claiming to be experts on the subject. However, there’s little doubt that the jihadist nutters have been the biggest winners from previous divisions between Moscow and the West.

Just ponder it a moment. The two Christian military superpowers - the US and Russia - tearing themselves asunder over a semi-failed state on Europe’s edge, while their real enemy ran amok in the Middle East. Imagine if, in 1941, Washington and Moscow had been jousting over, say, Western Sahara while Hitler was galloping across Europe? That’s close to what has happened in the last two years. Sideshows distracting from the main event.

While ISIS can’t send Panzers and squadrons of Wehrmacht to Russia, America or the EU, it can destabilize them in other forms. Many of those existential. For Brussels, a few more major terror attacks would almost certainly spell the end of Schengen and the concept of open borders. The European project would find it difficult to recover from such a step backwards. The Kremlin fears a successful ISIS fuelling jihadism in the volatile Kavkaz, or Caucasus region.

While large-scale Islamic terror shocks are relatively new to Europe, Russia has been on the frontline for years. Back in 2013, 34 people died in two separate suicide attacks in Volgograd. That followed a 2011 assault on Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in which 37 were slaughtered. Sadly, these were minor calamities compared to 2002’s Moscow Theatre hostage crisis (over 130 innocent civilians were killed) and Beslan, two years later, where over 300 civilians, including 186 children lost their lives. Thus, terrorism is not an abstract concept for Russians, even if their suffering is under-reported in the West.

The US itself is less threatened by Islamic terror than Russia or the EU. A tough visa regime, distance and a large body of water insulate it somewhat. Of course, that didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks on New York.

The fact is that from San Diego to Vladivostok and Lisbon to Sochi, we face a common enemy that can potentially destroy our way of life. A foe that views everyone with equal distain and doesn’t differentiate between east and west. Russia and the NATO countries are now discovering that there are more things that unite them than divide them. The real danger is ISIS. Everything else is a sideshow within a sideshow.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.