Russia Is Very Unlikely to Launch a War Against ISIS

Charles Krauthammer on what’s going to happen if it turns out ISIS was responsible for bombing Metrojet Flight 9268:

“As for the Russians, the Russians have had a decades long struggle with the radical Islam in the Caucasus and Chechnya,” he said. “But they have a reputation of being utterly ruthless – you don’t want to mess with Boris.”

“If this turns out to be an attack on a Russian airline, they’re going to have — either their deterrent is going to be diminished, or they’re going to have to have a furious response,” Krauthammer argued. “Which would incidentally help us, because it would be against ISIS.”

Actually, I’m a little curious about something. Further investigation will probably tell us whether it was a bomb that brought down the plane, but what could possibly tell us that it was an ISIS bomb? Unless ISIS takes public responsibility—and so far they haven’t—it would take some pretty lucky breaks in the investigation to pin the blame specifically on them.

In any case, I think Krauthammer is wrong. Russia does indeed have a reputation for being ruthless against radical Islam on its own soil, and this goes way beyond just Vladimir Putin. But they have no reputation for caring even a tiny bit about radical Islam anywhere else. A “furious response” against ISIS would require a projection of power that they likely don’t have, and a less-than-furious response would make them look weak. So they’ll probably do nothing. Either way, though, I doubt it will change anyone’s beliefs about what they’re willing to do within their own borders.

ISIS can be destroyed. But roughly speaking, this can happen in only a few different ways: (a) a massive ground campaign, (b) essentially a long siege that eventually ravages them—though probably at the cost of lots of civilian life, (c) internal strife that ultimately consumes them, or (d) an impressive, and rather unlikely, improvement in the Iraqi military. It’s hard to see Russia playing much of a role in any of these.