White House Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow on Thursday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly with a proposal to boost military cooperation and increase intelligence sharing with Russia in an attempt to strengthen defenses against the Islamic State and al Qaeda camps in Syria.
The coordination plans were published in an eight-page document on Washington Post on Thursday consisting of identifying leadership targets, training camps, supply lines and the headquarters of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Nusra. The cooperation would be established through a Joint Implementation Group based in Amman, Jordan.
The US and Russia would each setup headquarters for the operation where they would both deploy senior officials, intelligence personnel and experts in strike planning and targeting. The document also mentioned that the two sides would decide on a date to simultaneously begin attacks against Nusra goals and to stop all Syrian military air activities in agreed designated areas, except for non-combat purposes.
Kerry decided not to comment on the reports in Paris before flying to Moscow. He told reporters that he would only respond after his trip after discussions with the Russian President and Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, have taken place.
While in Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also refused to comment on the document until Russian officials had discussed with Kerry himself what the proposal entails. However, Peskov did state that Russia favored cooperation with the US over Syria.
Military cooperation speculation one week after NATO conference
A copy of the coordination document published in The Washington Post has raised eyebrows in terms of the western and eastern powers’ relations. Just last week NATO members convened in Warsaw, Poland, to discuss strengthening military presence in the alliance’s eastern flank to increase protection of the Baltic states.
Although NATO insisted that the focus of the defense system is to counter a missile threat from Iran and Syria and unrelated to Russia’s deterrent, analysts warned of a risk that Russia would retaliate to Nato’s moves, fuelling escalation on the latter’s tense eastern border.
The agenda behind a potential Washington-Moscow cooperation proposal remains uncertain considering that deputy US national security advisor stated at the two-day conference in Poland: “What we are demonstrating is that if Russia continues this pattern of aggressive behavior, there will be a response, and there will be a greater presence in eastern Europe. We will not be in any way deterred from our commitments by anything Russia says or does”.
Peskov reported that Russia had no intention of seeking an enemy but sees it happening nonetheless. He mentioned that it is, in fact, NATO military who are encroaching on and flying by Russian borders.
Although France has been one of the leading NATO members in sustaining diplomatic ties between the west and the east, the alliance’s relations with Russia are still strained from the Cold War. Which calls for skepticism as to how will the US and Russia potentially become allies against Islamic State and al Qaeda camps in Syria if they do not even trust each other?
US Candidates on Russia
Another crucial point worthy of reflection is whether the next president of the United States will better or maintain the strained relations with Russia. Republican Donald Trump seems to have received praise from Putin who, according to the Business Times, called Trump a “very colorful and talented person.” Last December the billionaire candidate stated that it was a great honor to be praised by Putin for whom he claimed to have great respect.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, however, has not received the same warm words. Japan Times reported that Russia would “overwhelmingly prefer” Trump over Clinton, who over the years has not been discreet about her views of the eastern European nation. According to an article published in Reuters, April this year: Clinton compared Putin to Adolf Hitler in 2014, which was not considered the most diplomatic or even historically accurate statement as over 20 million Soviet soldiers died fighting Hitler’s Germany. Putin’s response not only made reference to Clinton’s gender but also to his distaste for her statements.
The speculation surrounding the reported coordination proposal is yet to be validated by either side. Should the proposal be in the pipelines for new military strategies,, the realization of such an alliance between Russia and the United States may also heavily depend on who will win the seat in the Oval Office in the November elections. It is an interesting and admittedly nerve-wracking time for international relations; all bets are off.