LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: We must embrace Putin to beat Islamic State

Paddy Ashdown has been writing in the Times about the need to get Russia onside in the fight against Islamic State.

Russia has so far been excluded from our coalition that is fighting Islamic State (Isis). Why? It has a dog in this fight, too — arguably a much bigger one than we have. Sunni jihadism is roaring away in the Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, almost as much as in Iraq and Syria. We in Europe may be concerned about jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is one of the battlefields.

Washington friends tell me that the reason for this reluctance to draw in Russia is the personal animus between presidents Putin and Obama. If so, get over it. A wider coalition that includes the Russians, actively or passively, could open the way to a UN security council resolution, provide the best means of limiting the spread of the crisis and vastly enhance our horsepower in resolving it.

Hang on, isn’t he the guy that’s making all sorts of noise about Ukraine and the guy who has people in the Baltic states worried about Russian expansionism. Paddy has that covered:

We cannot compromise on Ukraine, where Putin invites us to dig up the foundations on which the peace of Europe has been built for 50 years. But with Russia the best policy is not isolation, it is balance: tough where necessary, partnership where possible. The current crisis offers us just such an opportunity. We should take it.

And he explains that there’s a very good reason why. If we don’t, we’ll end up with a global religious war on our hands:

The crucial backdrop to the Isis crisis is the Sunni/Shia conflict that now reverberates across the Middle East, down into Africa, up into the Russian Islamic republics and even to Indonesia and the Uighur population of China. This is what makes the barbaric provocations of Isis so potentially explosive. The danger is that we, the West, will get drawn in on the Sunni side of this divide, while Russia is drawn into the Shia one. Then we would have a regional war with global consequences — think of the Balkans in 1913.

He also says we need to look to the wider region and seek long term solutions for Israel and Palestine.

Turkey needs to be brought in on whatever basis it feels comfortable with. We will have to decide soon whether the current faltering nuclear talks with Iran can be allowed to fail, just when there is so much to gain from a deeper engagement with reformists in Tehran. There are encouraging recent attempts to improve relations between the two giants of the Shia and Sunni worlds, Iran and Saudi Arabia. We should be strongly encouraging these. And finally, a settlement in the Middle East strong enough to resist the contagion of Sunni jihadism, of which Isis is only the latest example, requires a solution to the question of illegal Israeli settlements as the necessary prelude to any Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution.

You can read the whole article here (£)?

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary in print, on air or online.

Read more by or more about , , , , or .
This entry was posted in Europe / International and LibLink.


  • When Paddy talks, I listen. This time my response is ‘Hmmm….not sure’.

  • The headline is just wrong

  • Nom de Plume 30th Sep '14 - 7:35pm

    Horsepower? There will be no need for horses. Is Russia going to send troops to fight IS? Has he forgotten about the annexation of the Crimea? I don’t even know the difference between Sunni/Shia.

  • Totally agree, in fact Paddy, I’d go further if it were up to me.

    Putin knows how to crush Islamic terrorist movements so I think we should copy his tactics in dealing with those people. ISIS is an evil that needs to be removed, ISIS is a like a cancer on humanity that must be cut out and completely irradiated from root to branch by (almost) any means necessary ISIS must be removed from the world.

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '14 - 9:22pm

    It seems unlikely to me that Putin would allow the West to help fight against ISIL-like groups in Dagestan and Chechnya. It would hurt their pride, and they’d be worried that our presence there would lead to collateral changes that he would find unwelcome , like democracy. The Putin/Lavrov policy in the Middle East and in Ukraine has been an unmitigated disaster, for them as well as us. So why would we want Russians in Iraq?

    If we manage to defeat ISIL in Iraq, one of the jihadis’ escape routes could be up through Azerbajan and Georgia to Dagestan and Chechnya then Russia. So one of our options would be to drive them that way and have the Russians take care of what arrives on their doorstep. Maybe we could cooperate in that kind of way. Just about every country condemns ISIL, so would a UN resolution actually change much?

  • What about persuading mulsims from GCC countries from funding ISIL.

    It is not that Putin dislikes Obama he despises him for being weak, stupid, shallow and gullible.
    Paddy does not mention that perhaps if the arab world did not threaten Israel with extinction, then perhaps relations would be better:negotiating one’s extinction is suicide.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '14 - 3:34pm

    I am concerned about this… For a start it really overlooks Russian support for the Assad regime which is the root cause of much of this violence: violent repression of peaceful protests, the execution of soldiers who refused to fire upon demonstrators, mass torture of civil activists, the releasing of hundreds of hardened jihadists from Saidnaya prison at the beginning of the uprising with the intention of discretiding the opposition… All of these things pushed the Syrian opposition into armed rebellion. And Russia has backed Assad at every step.

    In fact, this leads on to a more general point, which often gets overlooked. The Sunni/Shia split has existed for a long time, but for the most part hasn’t turned into violent conflict. I think most of the conflict in the Middle East today – while exacerbated by sectarian differences certainly – is primarily political. It is between forces of liberalism and authoritarianism, communalism and individualism. These forces aren’t necessarily aligned in the same way that they are in the European / Western context, so I’m not saying simplistically that it’s a case of local Lib Dems vs. whoever. But most of these conflicts are about power, resources, patronage, land, freedom to practice religion, work (or the lack of it), etc.

    One final point. Paddy says that “The danger is that we, the West, will get drawn in on the Sunni side of this divide, while Russia is drawn into the Shia one.” This itself is a dangerous oversimplification. By allying with the authoritarian, sectarian, Iranian-backed iraqi regime, and the authoritarian, sectarian, Iranian backed Assad regime against largely Sunni insurgents in both Iraq and Syria, we are already seen by many Sunnis as being on the Shia side of this divide, not theirs!

  • The truth is that the West has been constantly trying to isolate Russia ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union – a sort of cooled down version of the Cold War. Arguably many of the difficulties which have arisen including the Ukraine situation can be at least partly traced to this. I’m with Paddy on this . My only difference with him is that I do think we need to compromise on Ukraine – indeed it is happening in the background now.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '14 - 2:37am

    I wanted to support this article, but I was keeping a low profile. Paddy is dead right – Putin is dying to tackle people like IS, but we are excluding him.

    I would like to know what Paddy thinks about bombing Syria. My instincts are to work with Assad, but this seems to be against the western consensus. However, what choice do we have? We do not want to launch a worldwide war on dictatorships, the priority has to be tackling expansionary extremists.

    It is good that he criticises Israel too, but without going too far. I also think we need action to bring in refugees from Syria and Iraq. Yes, it is risky, but it will reduce civilian casualties, so I think justified. Plus, it will improve our image in the middle east.

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Oct '14 - 12:17am

    @Eddie Sammon – Sadly, I think working with Assad is becoming the western concensus when the opposite needs to happen.

    The dramatic expansion of ISIS can be explained in large part thanks to the Assad regime:
    – releasing militant jihadis from prison at the start of the civil uprising
    – paying ISIS for the oil the regime buys
    – bombing the various Syrian rebel groups but leaving ISIS untouched, thereby making it the ‘safe option’ and encouraging its expansion at the expense of other opposition groups.

    Bombing various Syrian opposition groups in addition to ISIS at the moment makes us look like we’re working with the regime to defeat the opposition. i.e. That we are taking the side of a mass-murdering, industrial scale torturing, WMD-using, sectarian conflict promoting, terrorism exporting, corrupt, incompetant and detested military regime over a varied opposition, the majority of which sees the regime as a larger threat to their safety and future than ISIS.

    The regime almost certainly cannot defeat ISIS – not without many, many more years of fighting, and then only once it has exterminated all of the pockets of moderate opposition to its rule. Just as with Iraq, unless we are willing to put tens of thousands of our own ‘boots on the ground’, the only people who can defeat ISIS ultimately are the people who are currently, with deep reservations and much regret, supplying it with support – Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis.

    If we want to win, we need to get them on side, and that means addressing their concens (i.e. with the Iraqi and Syrian governments, although we should take different approaches with each).

  • @Jonathan Brown “I am concerned about this… For a start it really overlooks Russian support for the Assad regime which is the root cause of much of this violence” – The undermining of the Assad regime by those who funded the terrorists is the root cause of much of this violence. It wasn’t Assad that decided to commit genocide for the sake of it and persecute anyone who wasn’t a Sunni extremist.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '14 - 10:42am

    Thanks Jonathan. So what is your solution? If you want Assad to go then who or what would replace him? Blair talked about getting behind those that want democracy in the country, but if they are only a small minority then we have a problem?

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Oct '14 - 12:11pm

    @Mr Wallace – obviously extremists in the gulf sending funds to extremists in Syria is part of the problem too, but on the broader point you are mistaken. The regime very much decided to commit crimes against humanity for the sake of it and persecute anyone who wasn’t a Sunni extremist. Have we forgotten the regime’s destruction of the city of Hama in 1982? 20-30,000 dead? That same mindset is responsible for what is happening in Syria now.

    Initially small, then much larger peaceful protests in Syria called for the reform of the regime and an end to torture. The Assad regime responded with appalling violence (you ought to see the photos from the prison camps which look like they’ve come from Nazi Germany) and deliberately stoked extremism. The Assad regime deliberately pursued – and pursues – a strategy of tacit support for ISIS, hoping to engineer a reluctant West’s support for the regime. Russia backs the Assad government to the hilt.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

This post has pre moderation enabled, please be patient whilst waiting for it to be manually reviewed. Liberal Democrat Voice is made up of volunteers who keep the site running in their free time.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Chris Moore
    Hello Mary, you say this, "he party made a huge tactical error – when they could have had massive influence on a vote by vote basis – and betrayed millio...
  • Gwyn Williams
    As a student some 44 years ago, I delivered leaflets in a byelection in a new(ish)housing estate on the outskirts of Reading. It was uneventful until a furious ...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might we please have a pamphlet or three on the harsh harm done to so many in our policy-deprived, not-rich fellow citizens and the some 25% of our children w...
  • David Blake
    Leaflets work, but they have to contain more than just 'Labour can't win here'. We need to get people voting for us because of our policies and values, not jus...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Mary Fulton: Confidence & Supply would have had the same risks for us as a full-blown coalition. It would have looked like we were just propping up the Tor...