In a recent interview for Defense News TV, Russia defense analyst Ruslan Pukhov of Moscow offered an interesting prospect: a union of Russia and the West could very well happen, he said, replacing the current so-called Cold War Part II the regions find themselves in, spurred by the common threat of terrorism.
He compared the unlikely coupling to that of Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, uniting with the lesser of two evils for a common good.
Perhaps we’ll get to that place. But for now, there seems a lot of factors in the way.
Consider that Vladamir Putin is not Stalin in the eyes of the Western World, nor is ISIS the same as Nazi Germany. That’s not to rank Western adversaries, but rather to point to notable distinctions that could prevent a true, productive partnership to be forged.
For one thing, at the time of Stalin’s rule, the Soviet Union was a superpower. It also had tried, albeit with limited success, to cooperate with Nazi Germany. Such cooperation would have posed a perhaps insurmountable challenge to the West. A carefully crafted union between Stalin, Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the allies had to figure, diminished that threat of a bigger, more powerful enemy.
Contrast that with today’s Russia. It’s not a superpower, despite actions that hint at a desire to be. And any other potential cooperation with the common threat of the moment – the Islamic State and other terrorist groups – does not exist. That common threat does not seek political expansion as much as philosophical domination. Russia offers no advantage to those groups. By the same token, the world has changed. Eastern Europe is not under the thumb of a communist superpower. It rather is attempting to combat insurgency, and looking to the West to support such efforts. A union between the west and Moscow would run counter to that, at least in the eyes of the countries that feel most threatened.
The US and Russia continue to struggle to create even a basic information sharing agreement in Syria in order to target ISIS forces there, with the Pentagon last week warning that those conversation cannot go on indefinitely. If the two countries cannot operate together against terrorism, as they did in the early days of the post-9/11 era, it throws cold water on the idea of a broader realignment between Russia and the US.
Could the dynamic shift? Even Pukhov concedes that chances are pretty low until the situation in Crimea is resolved – a situation that the Ukraine Ambassador in the US Valeriy Chaly called not only occupation, but an information war from Russia that attempts to blackmail Europe.
Nor could any true partnership happen when Russia poses such a threat to NATO members along the Eastern Flank. It’s a political quagmire.
So here we are. The odds of that degree of cooperation seemingly so small. And yet, as Pukhov said, "whenever I feel full of pessimism, some terrible terrorist attack happens, like the one in Nice."
And then he thinks, maybe.
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.