At the same time, it is understandable that Russia’s return to the Middle East region, as part and parcel of its re-emergence as a superpower, fuels concerns in the US. Moscow’s desire to become an influential player in this strategically important region, even under the rules of realpolitik, inevitably generates a clash of interests, mutual distrust and tensions.
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Moscow shows that Syria could in fact become a major driver of convergence between Russia and the US. The conflict in Syria is but a sideline event in the much larger and more complex turmoil in the region as a whole. And both powers have ample experience in combating terrorism and conflict resolution. If assisted by other key Western players, this wealth of experience could go a long way to help resolve the conflict in Syria.
The Russian Federation has been struggling with terrorists and militants (“boeviki”)within its borders since the collapse of the USSR. It continues to face low-level insurgency in the Caucasus region and Tatarstan as numerous Islamist terrorist entities seek to establish new centers of radical Islam in Russia as springboards for activities beyond the Federation’s borders.
Moreover Russia has historical experience of establishing a modus operandi not only between Islam and Christianity but also between different Islamic movements. In the Arab world, Russia is perceived as one of the few countries that is able to remain on friendly terms with opposing actors in the Greater Middle East region and even with parties who are at war with one another. Such competences could be very useful ifapplied to the maddeningly complex situation in Syria.
The US and Russia have an opportunity to work in Syria in tandem, based on mutual trust and the shared desire to bring the conflict to an end. However, it will be up to the Syrian people themselves to determine their country’s future and to ensure that Syria does not turn into a playground for terrorists.
Were the US and Russia to succeed in helping establish peace in Syria, the stage would be set for them to continue to work together toward stability in the Middle East as a whole. Such cooperation would have a positive impact on bilateral relations and might even lay to rest, once and for all, the ghosts of the Cold War.
Unfortunately, recent history does not provide much ground for optimism. We saw a wave of US-Russia cooperation immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. But the dynamic created by those tragic events did not last. Still, this does not mean that the successful resolution of the conflict in Syria could not open a more promising new chapter.

The article was published for the first time on the Voice of Russia web-site.
Maria DUBOVIKOVA is PhD candidate at MGIMO-University, Executive Director of IMESClub, Fellow of American University in Moscow