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Russia-Georgia-Syria and the west

By Tim Ogden
Friday, November 20
In response to the recent Paris terrorist attacks, the French nation has declared itself to be 'at war'. Its aerial bombing campaign is being expanded, and the deployment of ground troops is being actively discussed. Security across the European continent is being rigorously tightened in anticipation of further attacks.

The Islamic State is not only dangerous due to its dominance of much of Syria and Iraq, nor because of its ability to inspire young Muslims into detonating a suicide bomb or using a rifle to gun down civilians in a European street. It is the way in which IS is dividing European society and politics that it poses a further threat.

The fact that many European-born Muslims are travelling to Syria to fight for IS or committing atrocities in their name (as in Paris this week) is deeply alarming for native Europeans. The Islamic community in Europe is frequently cited as one that has struggled to fully integrate with European society as a whole, and terrorist incidents are only making the chasm of division all the greater. This in turn causes right-wing parties in Europe to win more voters something which IS is undoubtedly aware of. The recent migrant crisis, which is causing millions of Syrians and Iraqis to seek refuge in Europe, is also dividing European opinion at almost every level.

Georgians themselves seem unsure as to how concerned they should be by the turbulent events in Syria and Iraq. Though some Georgian citizens from the Muslim-populated Pankisi Gorge and Adjara have made their way to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State (most notably Tarkhan Batirashvili, now an IS regional commander), the numbers do not compare with those travelling from Western European countries. It is also unlikely that Georgia (despite being a Christian-majority country and presumably an enemy nation in accordance with IS philosophy) will suffer an attack in the style of those carried out in Paris; from a terroristic point of view, bombs and bullets in Tbilisi simply does not have the shock factor of a similar assault in Paris, London or New York.

The Islamic State, as well as causing division amongst foreign powers, is also managing to unify them, and it is this which could pose a more immediate threat to Georgia. Despite the West's suspicion that Russia's military campaign is primarily intended to support Bashar al-Assad - an ally of President Putin - Russian forces have indeed attacked Islamic State militants, which has led to a more sympathetic perception of the Russian Federation amongst the European public (and a brutal reprisal from IS in the form of a bomb placed on a Russian passenger plane flying from Sharm el-Sheikh).

France has declared its intent to actively work with the Russian Federation in carrying out a joint campaign against the Islamic State. In some parts of France and Russia, this new unexpected alliance will perhaps evoke memories of how Russia and France had made up two thirds of the Triple Entente in 1914, or jointly faced the Nazi war machine a few decades later; recent areas of disagreement, such as Russia's war in Ukraine, have yet to be mentioned.

This year, Georgia's Ministry of Defence optimistically reported that France would be supplying a series of new air defence weapons, so that Georgia can negate any hostile use of aircraft in its skies. These weapons are only being purchased for the potential use against one enemy. This deal and others like it could now be at risk; it is not difficult for the price of Russian cooperation against the Islamic State being a cessation of Western military aid to Georgia and Ukraine.

The ongoing war in Syria has caused Ukraine's war and Georgia's breakaway regions to be largely ignored. Despite the West's moral objections to Moscow's thinly-veiled attempts to reclaim lost Soviet territories, Russia's actions in Eastern Europe pose little threat to Europe and America. It is unsurprising, then, that greater attention is being paid to the Middle East and Russia's aggression towards its neighbours has been all but forgotten.

It is not hard to imagine Russia setting a high price for its cooperation in the war against IS, but the horror of the Paris attacks might well encourage the West to cede to Moscow's demands. A lifting of the sanctions against Russia will undoubtedly be high on the list (which will likely allow Russia to recover much of its economic strength), hence it is likely that a reduction in Western aid to former Soviet republics will not be far behind.