As the situation currently stands, Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks conflict with the United States. While the Western media is aghast over perceived Russian strength, the truth is the Russian Federation, and Putin’s regime in particular, is weak. Russia’s military actions from Georgia, to Ukraine, to Syria in recent years are not projections of strength, but indications of weakness. Russia’s military performance has been sub-par for the most part.

In Ukraine, Putin tried to cover up the deaths of Russian troops, knowing it would be unpopular in Moscow. For this reason, the Putin regime prefers to send people to fight that mainstream Russians don’t much care for, such as Kadyrov’s men from Chechnya. In Georgia in 2008, Russia had a hard time projecting force just across their own border. These military actions are not a sign of renewed Russian strength, but rather they are Hail Marys—last-ditch efforts to stir up nationalist sentiments at home in order prop up the regime.

But does it always have to be like this? Perhaps not. In Syria, Putin has the opportunity to write himself into the history books as a world leader who led the charge against ISIS and forged a historic partnership between two great powers: Russia and the United States.

Like combat, international politics is filled with suboptimal decisions. Perfect solutions rarely, if ever, exist. Instead, political leaders have to balance their national interests with various internal and external frictions, and choose the lesser of two evils. This is something that we will have to keep in mind if Russian and America attempt to team-up in Syria. Painful compromises will have to be made on both sides.

Currently, Putin is not seeking a real partnership with America in Syria to help defeat ISIS. Instead, he is spreading propaganda in the form of conspiracy theories that America is a hidden hand behind ISIS, that America gave ISIS the green light to blow up the Russian airliner that went down over the Sinai, and on and on. This antagonism is also for domestic purposes within Russia. Putin needs scary, nefarious foreign plots to scare the Russian public into accepting his rule. This is a common theme within dictatorships.

I would argue that Putin has much more to gain by seeking cooperation with the West in Syria. Instead of the current propaganda narrative, he could make the case that we are all in this together, fighting an international war against terrorism which stretches from Paris to New York to Dagestan and Moscow. This narrative taps into a deeply regarded historical moment amongst the Russians, when America and Russia teamed up to defeat Nazism in Europe during World War Two.

Here is what this alliance could look like: The United States partners with the Kurds in northern Syria while Russia partners with Assad’s forces in the south. These partnerships already exist, but currently there is no cooperation between the two great powers involved in the fight. Russia and America would collaborate with one another, one force pushing from the north and the other from the south, coordinating offensives and airstrikes. In this manner, the Russo-American alliance would enact a hammer and anvil strategy, with ISIS getting squashed in the middle.

From my perspective, defeating ISIS is not that difficult, especially with the type of alliance I describe, but the post-war environment needs to be planned ahead of time. Assad, the Kurds, America, and Russia need to hold high-level meetings in order to hash out what post-war Syria will look like and to ensure that a lasting peace takes hold in the region. Again, all sides will have to make compromises.