Europe cannot afford to make a foe of Russia

By Zhao Minghao
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Global Times, November 25, 2015
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France and Russia have already begun to coordinate in fighting against extremism in Syria, and French President Francois Hollande will soon visit Moscow. This might be a signal that the relationship between Europe and Russia has started to become less tense, although it's a bit late and comes at a heavy price.

The tragedy in Paris might only be a forerunner before European countries suffer more terrorist attacks. Forces such as the Islamic State (IS) have always been astute observers of and players in major power relations. This is why they have been able to take advantage of the geopolitical situation between the US and Russia, including the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A greater danger for Europe is that it is becoming a powerless geopolitical player. This does not only mean a decrease in Europe's military and intelligence power, the reduction in its number of aircraft carriers, and soldiers who are reluctant to fight in a war, but also signifies Europe's lack of independent judgment and ability to coordinate at a geopolitical level. For instance, Brussels is becoming quite used to complying with demands and coercion from Washington.

The Paris attacks will likely strengthen the forces of populism within European countries, and further lower their solidarity and coordination in coping with challenges of terrorism and the refugee crisis. Countries like Poland and Hungary have taken an isolationist attitude through measures such as closing their borders. Divergences and misgivings among the EU member states have become increasingly obvious. To the point that a simple bill about gathering detailed information on air passengers to stop terrorism has long been hung up in the European parliament.

According to Hollande, the IS is actually starting a "war" in France. However, in this war, the biggest problem for the European people is figuring out friend from foe. Meanwhile, the IS is very good at finding sympathizers and supporters. In France, 5 to 12 percent of the population is Muslim, and over 2,000 French citizens are suspected of having jihadist ties.

Way back in 1992, Alexandre de Marenches, former head of French intelligence, warned in his book The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism that the principal challenge to France was this presence "within our nation of another nation we do not understand, whose language we do not speak, whose customs we do not know, whose hopes and aspirations we do not share."

It's no exaggeration to say that a new world war has begun. The terrorist attacks in Paris, the Russian plane crash and explosions in Lebanon are linked to each other. The IS now has the ability to plan and implement large-scale destruction worldwide. Franck Chaix, officer of the Gendarmerie, France's semi-military police force, even said that the extremists' goal is "an unconventional urban guerrilla war." According to estimates, the number of potential terrorists in Europe exceeds 5,000 and they are all European citizens.

Obviously, the hotbed of a potential war is the Middle East, where both Europe and Russia once have strong influence. Yet the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have greatly changed the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East as well as especially intensifying the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

Moreover, since 2011, Washington has underestimated the strategic consequence of the Arab Spring. It thought that democracy and prosperity would automatically arrive after overturning Saddam Hussein's regime and Bashar al-Assad's rule. Such strategic nearsightedness and arrogance has led to serious consequences, which, however, Europe has had to bear.

Europeans should realizethat fiercer bombings in Syria and Iraq are not necessarily the most effective choice. Berlin, Paris, and Brussels need to be more honest while facing the huge crisis that is haunting Europe.

Given the threat of the IS, Europe cannot afford to make Russia its enemy. It is able to negotiate with Moscow, but not with the terrorists.

If the US still wants to work against Russia over the Ukrainian issue, so be it. But Hollande's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has never been merciful in punishing terrorists, is not a bad one and that is a positive asset for Europe to keep.

The author is a research fellow with the Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

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