Fight against Islamic State should be a global priority
Improving ties between Turkey and Russia should not get in the way of the need for coordinated approach to the struggle against militancy
The threat of Islamic State to global stability cannot be disputed. But insufficient co-operation by nations battling the extremist Muslim group has allowed it to maintain its grip on territory across northern Iraq and Syria, despite battlefield setbacks. An agreement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to mend fractured ties gives hope that a better strategy can be devised. To succeed, though, they will also have to find common ground with governments they are at odds with.
Both leaders have pledged to defeat IS, but the shooting down of a Russian warplane by a Turkish jet in January led to Moscow imposing tough sanctions. Matters were already complicated by historical differences and by Putin’s support of embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, while Erdogan-backed rebels tried to overthrow the regime. The Turkish president’s position aligned with that of the US and its Western allies and he allowed American aircraft to launch attacks on IS from his country’s airfields. There are now tensions with the West, though, as a result of a failed coup blamed on a cleric living in the US and a deal with the EU involving Turkish migrants and Syrian refugees.
The West and Russia are at loggerheads over Moscow’s support of rebels fighting Ukraine’s government, so the agreement with Erdogan is being viewed with trepidation. Putin reached out to the president with an offer of aid after factions of the Turkish military tried to seize power, a breaking of the ice that prompted Erdogan to travel to St Petersburg for negotiations. They agreed key energy projects would be restarted and sanctions rolled back. The EU and US have not been so forthcoming over the coup, seeing a crackdown on thousands of opponents including judges, lawyers and the media as an excuse to strengthen power.
A pivot by Turkey away from the West to Russia would weaken the fight against IS. All have to co-operate and have a common strategy to defeat the terrorist threat. Without such an approach, the instability and uncertainty will continue.