Perhaps most crucially, the West and Russia have moved closer than at any time in the past four years toward a political solution in Syria, which many believe is central to fighting IS-inspired terrorism.
“There is a new pragmatism emerging in Europe to work with Russia and Iran, and other European partners, and to try and work towards a political solution,” says Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Centre at the University of Oxford.
Russia and Assad both exist. Surprisingly, no mention of Iran, though.
US-led efforts to eradicate IS were complicated after Russia intervened six weeks ago, with an expeditionary force of about 50 attack aircraft and supporting troops. But there is a growing consensus, given the reach and sophistication of IS terror, that Russia has helped change the diplomatic conversation, especially the idea that overthrowing Assad is an impossible immediate goal.
“It is dawning on everyone that the only way out of this is a political solution that takes into account the Assad government and the large numbers of people it represents. It hasn't survived for four years, with all the forces arrayed against it, without strong social roots," says Sergei Karaganov, a senior Russian foreign policy expert.
Talks in Vienna on Syria have already made more progress in the past 10 days than in the previous four years, says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council, Russia's Senate. A rough draft of a transitional program lays out a path to a ceasefire, a new Syrian constitution, and fresh elections within 18 months.
The issue of Assad, and whether he might be allowed to run in new elections, remains the key obstacle. The US and all its allies insist that while Assad may be allowed to play some sort of transitional role, he must leave soon. The Russians say they are not wedded to Assad, but remain vague on when and how he might relinquish power.
That might stymie forward movement in the peace process, since most Syrian rebels have insisted they will never deal with Assad. “One of the problems at Vienna is that we still don't have any definition of 'moderate' rebels. Everyone will agree that IS and Al Qaeda must be excluded. But there are many rebels who took up arms to depose Assad, that is why they are in the field,” says Sergei Strokan, international affairs columnist with the Moscow daily Kommersant.
"It is urgently necessary to drop all the polemics, and identify those forces who might be ready to stop shooting, sit down at the negotiating table, and then participate in a provisional government. This sort of thing has happened in many places, at many times, and it's perfectly possible for Syria.
Amen to that thought.