In the absence of a comparable U.S. role in the region it appears especially worthwhile.
68 Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay, Turkey, Russia Sign Deal on Supply of S-400 Missiles, Reuters, December 29, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-turkey-missiles/turkey-russia-sign-deal-on-supply-of-s-400-missiles-idUSKBN1EN0T5. In the policy community in the United States, Russias return to the Middle East has been met mostly with dismay and fears of its resurgence as a malign actor hostile to U.S. interests, in other words, as a spoiler. Importantly, Russia was a partner in those negotiations and still remains party to the deal. See Algeria Pushing Cut in Vineyards, New York Times, November 14, 1971. An unwritten but widespread belief held that the combined trauma of the 1980s Soviet campaign in Afghanistan and the 1990s war in Chechnya would be a powerful psychological and political barrier to another military intervention that could lead to many Russian casualties and an endless entanglement in a conflict similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which the United States was having difficulty extricating itself. Considering Russias long-term partnership with Iran and shared objectives in Syria, Israeli strikes against Iranian targets could have become a source of major disagreements with Israel. A related belief stated that a protracted military campaign far from the Russian bordera war of choice rather than necessitywould risk a domestic political backlash. 85 Michael Bradshaw, Thijs Van de Graaf, and Richard Connolly, Preparing for the New Oil Order? 83 Yehuda U. Blanga, Saudi Arabias Motives in the Syrian Civil War, Middle East Policy Council 24, no. The Russian presence with boots on the ground and airpower in Syria and its success in reversing the course of the civil war positioned it as a key interlocutor for the many stakeholders in that conflict. Thanks to a successful military intervention in Syria, Moscow has emerged as an important power broker positioned at the intersection of multiple interests that the Syrian civil war brought into conflict. The new chapter in Moscows Middle East policy began against the backdrop of a general deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. In this way, Islam became a crucial tool of the American intelligence during the Cold War. Overall, it was a major diplomatic coup for Russia. Russia and Egypt have partnered in supporting one of the factions in the Libyan civil war, the Libyan National Army, but the country remains too badly fractured for the LNA to score a decisive victory. Unofficial but influential U.S. voices reinforced that message by arguing that the United States newfound energy bounty would free it from dependence on Persian Gulf oil and present it with a range of previously unavailable geopolitical options.87. With Russias recent involvement in the Libyan internal conflict, Algeria and Russia have a shared interest in developments in that country. President Donald Trumps October 2019 decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from northern Syria and in effect green-light Turkeys military action against U.S.-aligned Kurdish-led militias is the most dramatic manifestation of Washingtons desire to put an end to nearly two decades of war.
Considering the transactional nature of Russias key relationships in North Africa, its limited resources, reluctance (to date) to take on significant risks, and inability to offer its regional partners what they need, its current efforts may not be sufficient. Polarization occurred after 1956, with USA supporting Israel and Soviet Union supporting Arab States. At the same time a heterogeneous agglomerate of political forces supported by the Soviet Union was formed, including not only communist and radical parties, but also nationalist, pan-Arab, anti-colonialist and bourgeois-democratic groups. The leader of the most powerful and wealthiest Persian Gulf state, a staunch ally of the United States, arrived in Moscow in the midst of the worst relationship between Washington and Moscow in decades, when the United States was actively trying to isolate Russia. This partnership and division of labor also planted the seeds of future tensions in the Iranian-Russian relationship. Russian airpower, in cooperation with Iranian boots on the ground, reversed the course of the war and saved Syrian President Bashar al-Assads government from imminent collapse. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press. Thus, he authorized the employment of the armed forces of the United States to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid, against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism (Eisenhower, 1957). 110 David D. Kirkpatrick, In Snub to U.S., Russia and Egypt Move Toward Deal on Air Bases, New York Times, November 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/world/middleeast/russia-egypt-air-bases.html.
The geopolitical realignment and instability caused by the civil wars in Libya and Syria and the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have opened opportunities for Russia to rebuild some of the old relationships and to build new ones. 30 Russia: Israel Behind Syria Strikes, Threatens Regional Stability, Times of Israel, July 2, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/russia-israel-behind-syria-strikes-threatens-regional-stability; Amos Harel, Analysis: Alleged Israel Strike in Syria hit Advanced Iranian Weapons Headed for Hezbollah, Haaretz, July 2, 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-israeli-syria-strike-hit-iran-weapons-for-hezbollah-lebanon-1.7427440; and Transcripts, CNN Newsroom, January 25, 2019, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1901/25/cnr.20.html. However, a closer look at this impressive pattern of activity makes clear that the practical implementation of these agreements and deals is lagging or remains unfulfilled. The impact of these developments did not take long to manifest in a major improvement in Russia-Saudi relations. The 2015 Russian military intervention in Syria was a critical milestone in that pursuita high-profile military deployment in a region long dominated by the United States, challenging the indispensable nations monopoly on decisionmaking in the Middle East. There is little that Russia can offer them to address those problems, which is likely to limit its reach and staying power in the region. Russian diplomacy in the Persian Gulf does not pose a threat to the flow of oil from the region. It would be a mistake and a blow to U.S. interests if this one-sided view of the situation solidified into a consensus in the policy community and indeed became the rationale for U.S. policy toward Syria, Russia, and the Middle East. Russias combination of limited resources and considerable ambitions make it at first glance an unlikely, but upon further consideration a plausible partner to the United States. In multiple exchanges of visits by Russian and Egyptian leaders and top officials since 2013, the two governments reached multiple agreements for cooperation.103 While the exact dollar amount of Russian arms sales to Egypt is not known, the two countries have concluded several multi-billion-dollar deals for the sale of dozens of fighter jets, helicopters, and other weapons system.104 Other agreements included energy projects, nuclear power plant construction, and a broad statement on comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.105, However, despite the impressive number of agreements signed, few apparently have moved to the implementation stage. As one of the worlds top three producers of hydrocarbons, Russia has a vital stake in the future of the global oil and gas marketplace. Russia has no military presence in the region where U.S. presence is still robust. Russia can be a key partner to Saudi Arabia in dealing with both. According to an influential policy blueprint pushed by Yevgeniy Primakov, who served as both foreign minister from 1996 to 1998 and prime minister from 1998 to 1999, Russia along with China and India would form a global counterweight to the United States.6 In the eyes of Russian policymakers, their Cold War opponent aspired to perpetuate the unipolar model and single-handedly run the world. Not only would it have been able to save its client regime, but it would have succeeded where the United States had failedin ending a major regional conflict. After the 1967 Six-Day War, in solidarity with its Arab partners, the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, and Israeli militarism became a favorite target of Soviet propaganda. Soviet involvement in Middle Eastern affairs during the Cold War was multifaceted and entailed economic and technical assistance, military assistance and training, arms sales, and even direct involvement in the regions conflicts in support of client-states. Considering the difficult terrain and porous borders of its neighbors, the prospect of instability in the Levant spilling over into Russias restive Caucasus region is a problem no Russian national security analyst or official can ignore. Both countries have been subjected to international sanctions. Yet, the Middle Easts most pressing problems are within Arab societies. The 2015 military intervention in Syria fundamentally changed Russias position in the Middle East. A recent sore point related to Saudi Arabias rivalry with Iran was Russias support for Syrias Bashar al-Assad and the assistance Russia was providing (alongside Iran) to his government in the Syrian civil war, in which Saudi Arabia had emerged as a major backer of the opposition.83 Last, but not least, the relationship between Moscow and Riyadh apparently had suffered from their repeated failures to coordinate their production strategies prior to 2015.84, Decisionmaking in both Moscow and Riyadh is opaque, but two developments with far-reaching consequences likely propelled Russia and Saudi Arabia toward a rapprochement. This diplomatic, economic, and military campaign had multiple effects on different audiences. It provided the Assad regime with invaluable support and diplomatic protection, it served as an opening for Russia to insert itself into Middle Eastern politics, and it positioned Russia as a major power willing and able to stand up to the United States. And as Russia retreated from the Middle East in the 1990s to deal with its own domestic challenges, it held little appeal for prospective partners, especially those like Egypts leaders, who otherwise would be able to count on generous flows of U.S. assistance and friendly reception in Washington. The Kremlin justified it to the Russian public in terms of historical continuity with earlier centuries struggles and victories. In fact, not only at the time were the great powers the Worlds major oil producers (Khalidi, 2009), but also the war made them increasingly aware of the strategic role oil had acquired in warfare. The Middle East was a primary area of contention (Khalidi, 2009).
By relying largely on airpower, the Russian military was able to operate virtually unopposed, for the antigovernment forces had few if any air defense capabilities. Russias trade with the Middle East remains exceedingly modest, and there is little likelihood that this state of affairs will change in the foreseeable future. 115 Nathaniel Reynolds, Putins Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner Group, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 8, 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/07/08/putin-s-not-so-secret-mercenaries-patronage-geopolitics-and-wagner-group-pub-79442. 126 Salma El Wardany, Wars, Coups and Protests Dont Stop Gas Flowing to Europe, Bloomberg, March 4, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-04/wars-coups-whatever-algeria-never-stops-gas-flows-to-europe. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-nato-exclusive-idUSKCN12C16Q? First, the Cold War did not represent the first case of influence and penetration by a hegemonic power in Persia.
54 Brian Hughes, How the Obama-Vladimir Putin Relationship Died, Washington Examiner, July 30, 2014, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/how-the-obama-vladimir-putin-relationship-died; and Michael Crowley, Did Obama Get Erdogan Wrong? POLITICO, July 16, 2016, https://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/obama-turkey-225659. Russian interest in preventing the fall of the Assad regime, with which it has partnered for half a century, matched Irans commitment to it. Personal ties between leaders also make a difference, but aside from personal factors and regardless of shifts in Israel domestic politics, the geopolitics of the Syrian conflict and the stakes of the two countries in Syria demand that they handle their relationship with care and weigh their choices so as to avoid upsetting it. 146, July 2018, https://css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/resources/docs/EUISS-CP_146.pdf; and William E. Pomeranz, Imperial Overreach: How Putins Move Into Syria Could Bring His Government Down, Reuters, September 28, 2015, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/09/28/why-putins-move-into-syria-may-prove-one-step-too-far/. The last of these was a notable new development, considering that in 2003 the United States had brushed aside Russian objections to the invasion of Iraq, and Russia could do little about it. In multiple situations, it has inserted itself and become a party whose consent is necessary, even if Moscow is hardly in a position to provide the right solutions to serious problems. The two kindred spiritsformer intelligence officer Putin returned to the presidency after large-scale protests and a flawed election, and former military intelligence chief Sisi rose to the leadership of his country following a military coupevidently saw the vast potential benefit of improving bilateral ties between Russia and Egypt. The Saudi kings visit was a milestone in another area critically important for both countries: coordination of their activities in the world oil market.89 Because previous attempts by the two oil giants to coordinate their activities had failed, the agreement initially reached in 2016 was first met with skepticism.90 The agreement was reaffirmed during King Salmans visit to Moscow and, despite repeated doubts about its prospects, subsequently extended on several occasions with plans under way to establish a long-term OPEC+ alliance notwithstanding the fact that Russia has not reduced its oil output except for a brief period in 2019a cut that was due to temporary technical problems.91 Despite that, the appearance of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the oil market prompted criticism from Iran, whose OPEC representative complained in 2018 that the two were holding the oil market hostage and taking advantage of Iran when it was being pressured by the United States.92. The resulting footprint of the Russian military in Syria turned out to be much smaller than initially predicted. The sale of S-300s to Syria had been bound up with the possibility of that system ending up in the hands of the Iranianssomething that Israeli officials had long feared. Joseph Stalins apparent support for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947presumably as a step intended to undermine the UKs position in the Middle Eastwas accompanied by a vicious anti-Semitic campaign inside the Soviet Union. This evolution has been a direct product of the changing fortunes of the Assad regime. In addition to diplomatic engagement, Russia has courted the smaller GCC countries as potential investors. 43 Irans Revolutionary Guards, Council on Foreign Relations, May 6, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/irans-revolutionary-guards; War by Proxy: Irans Growing Footprint in the Middle East, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 11, 2019, https://www.csis.org/war-by-proxy; and Nir Boms and Stephane Cohen, Iran and the New State of Play in Southwest Syria, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, January 22, 2019, https://dayan.org/content/iran-and-new-state-play-southwest-syria. So far, Russia has delivered some, but far from all that Israel wants from it, and there are precious few signs that Russia intends to break with Iran, its partner and key ally in Syria. For Russia, Irans isolation presented a unique opportunity to sustain its claim as a power with Middle East interests and a major voice in the international communitys efforts to limit the Iranian nuclear program. 4 (1999), https://www.mepc.org/journal/turkish-syrian-crisis-october-1998-turkish-view; Michael B. Bishku, Turkish-Syrian Relations: A Checkered History, Middle East Policy Council 19, no. For the latter, it is an opportunity to consolidate its position as the key power broker and peacemaker in the Middle East. Russian engagement in Syria has evolved over a period of several years. Russia is United States biggest geopolitical threat, in the words of a 2012 U.S. presidential candidate.22 Yet both Putin and Netanyahu have been targets of international criticism, even ostracism. As I worked on the book I did, however, see both the contemporary relevance of a study of the Cold War in the Middle East and parallels with the current situation. I would venture, on the basis of the experiences of the Cold War and of the postCold War era thus far, that whatever happens in American-Russian relations and regarding the war on terror, the Middle East will indeed continue to be a crucially important arena. Saudi King Salmans 2017 visit to Moscow was a historic first, and the two energy superpowers have pledged to coordinate their oil export policies, but much like the Israelis, the Saudis are likely to be disappointed in their hope that better relations with Russia could lead it to abandon its partnership with Iran. At the same time, the realities of the regional situation looked quite different from a local perspective than they may have to superpower policymakers thousands of miles, and often a mental world, away. Russian-Egyptian relations underwent a major improvement after Morsi was overthrown in a 2013 coup and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the new leader of Egypt. The tactic enhanced Russias reputation as both a shrewd diplomatic actor and a peer competitor to the United States in the Middle East, where the latter previously had no equals. Evidently reluctant to bet exclusively on Haftar and the LNA, Russian diplomats have maintained ties with the Government of National Accord, thus seeking to hedge against all possible contingencies, keep all options open, and maintain Russian leverage in a future settlement.121 In the absence of any internal or outside actor capable of imposing its solution on the Libyan conflict, Russia has positioned itself as a party whose endorsement will be necessary for any future settlement. Notwithstanding all of Russias many problems and shortcomings, it is bound to remain an important actor in the Middle East whose interests will at times be incompatible with those of the United States, but will not always be inimical to them either. Due to geographical contiguity, Iran felt continuously menaced by the Soviet Union. On the positive side, the Turkish-Russian trade and economic relationship serves as an important foundation for the two countries ties and provides both with powerful incentives to sustain that relationship. As argued below, in the discussion of Russias relations with Iran, notwithstanding the confluence of their interests in supporting the Assad regime, their longer-term interests diverge. For example, the American-Iranian confrontation in the postCold War era resembled nothing so much as a regional version of the Cold War, with an exaggerated emphasis on terrorism taking the place of "international communism" as a bogey, and a "global war on terror" targeting an "axis of evil" standing in for a cold war against an "evil empire.". While expressions of interest have so far exceeded actual amounts invested, they are not to be dismissed.
98 Marianna Belenkaya, How Did Lavrov Do on His Gulf Tour?, Al-Monitor, March 7, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/03/russia-gulf-lavrov-syria-palestine.html#ixzz5znVf7QPH; and Nikolay Kozhanov and Leonid Issaev, Russian Influence in the Gulf Has Its Limits, Al Jazeera, April 5, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/russian-influence-gulf-limits-190404133832327.html. Yet for some observers, the Russian military intervention in Syria that positioned it as a force in Middle Eastern politics has been easy to dismiss as a mistake or a potential invitation to plunge into new quagmires.1 That would be wrong. Russian-Turkish relations have received an upgrade as a result of Russias intervention in Syria. The thorniest issue on the coordination, or deconfliction, agenda between Russia and Israel has been the presence in Syria of Iranian forces and Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets. 31 Zainab Fattah and Ilya Arkhipov, Russia Rejected Iran S-400 Missile Request Amid Gulf Tension, Bloomberg, May 30, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-30/russia-rejected-iran-s-400-missiles-request-amid-gulf-tension. In the first phase of Israel life, namely from its birth in 1948 to the Suez Crisis of 1956, superpowers competed in supporting Israel. For Russia, marginalized on the world stage after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Iran became a major entry point in both Middle Eastern and global politics.
For Russia, struggling to overcome the twin obstacles of U.S. and EU sanctions and its own poor investment climate, the prospect of investments by some of the biggest sovereign wealth funds is important and welcome as proof of its ability to break out of international isolation and economic potential. In terms of its economic and financial impact on the world stage, diplomatic importance and geopolitical sway, and military capabilities, Russia falls short of the ideal partner the Gulf states apparently desire. In the Levant, in North Africa, and in the Persian Gulf, the Kremlin has succeeded in rebuilding some of the old relationships that it abandoned during its troubled 1990s. In 1907, in order to balance their influence, the two states agreed to divide Iran; 1942, unsatisfied of its neutrality, they agreed to invade it.
The intervention took place against the backdrop of a United States pulling back from the Middle East and growing uncertainty about its future role there. In the words of one Israeli analyst who follows developments in Syria and Russian operations there, Russia is our neighbor now.. The Syria intervention was carried out once it became clear that the United States would not stand in the way of the Russian military. The 1972 Moscow Summit: A Lost Opportunity or the Beginning of Something Great? It was adopted both in terms of appeal made to potential allies and in terms of economic, political and social models they offered to them (Halliday in Sayigh and Shlaim, 1997). Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Putin at the G20 Summit, November 30, 2018 (Photo by Alejandro Pagni/AFP/Getty Images). Russia lacks the military muscle and the diplomatic leverage to influence Iran. The signs for the postCold War era so far are not entirely encouraging. Alex Levac With the exception of economic ties, where there exists a great deal of complementarity and which have the potential of serving as a stabilizing factor, their relationships foundationshistorical, political, geopolitical, strategic, and personal ties between the two leaderslack the strength, durability, and trust called for in a true partnership, let alone alliance.
59 Turkeys Downing of Russian Warplane - What We Know, BBC, December 1, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34912581. 18 Putin as Bismarck: Ehud Barak on Wests Russia Blind Spots, the Middle East and More, Russia Matters, November 28, 2016, https://www.russiamatters.org/analysis/putin-bismarck-ehud-barak-wests-russia-blind-spots-middle-east-and-more. 102 Alexander Bratersky, Morsi Seeks Union With Kremlin, Fails to Get Loan, Moscow Times, April 21, 2013, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2013/04/21/morsi-seeks-union-with-kremlin-fails-to-get-loan-a23463. The 1991 defeat of Saddam Husseins Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition disrupted the long-standing Russian relationship with Iraq. It worked as a distraction, diverting attention from domestic problems, which could otherwise be earlier observed and solved.
Whether you agree with him or not, Khalidi, author of six books on the Middle East, is a compelling and distinctive voice, challenging the way we think about this important region. As the superpowers fought for dominance in the Middle East, the author argues, they exacerbated regional conflicts and hindered efforts at fostering democracy. Currently prohibited from supplying arms to Libyan factions by the UN arms embargo, Russia could be well positioned to do so once the embargo is lifted.120. 24 Putin Lifts Ban On Supplies Of S-300 Missiles To Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 13, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/putin-lifts-ban-on-supplies-of-s-300-missiles-to-iran/26953172.html; Yossi Melman, Analysis: How Netanyahus Threats Pushed the US Into a Flawed Deal With Iran, Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2015, https://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Netanyahus-miscalculations-412029; and April Brady, Russia Completes S-300 Delivery to Iran, Arms Control Association, December 2016, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2016-11/news-briefs/russia-completes-s-300-delivery-iran.