After the effects of the Arab Spring on Russian foreign policy in 2011 and its successful mediation in the agreement between the West and Syria on the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles (September 2013), the question arises as to whether Russia has a strategy for the MENA Region. Regarding this question, there are three ways of thinking in the analysis of Russian activities in the Middle East:
1. Russia has had a largely successful Middle East strategy.
2. Russia had a strategy for the region, but things didn’t necessarily go as planned.
3. Russia has no strategy for the Middle East.
Russia’s goals and tools in the MENA region
The main drivers of Russian policies in the MENA region are economic and geopolitical. Russia’s objectives are multiple and can be classified at several levels. Globally, Russia is seeking to regain its global power and once again become a key independent geopolitical player and regain its position as an important foreign power in one of the world’s most volatile regions. Russia, meanwhile, knows that it cannot replace the United States as an important player or major security provider in the MENA region. Yet this could minimize the role of the United States. Moreover, Russia is trying to show that the American strategy against terrorism, in favor of the color revolutions and the policy of regime change, has failed.
Russia’s main objective is to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria at the regional level. In other words, internal security is maintained by maintaining security in the surrounding environment. Russia’s primary objective is still to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria at the regional level. In other words, internal security is maintained by maintaining security in the surrounding environment. Mediation between the West and countries in the MENA region and the application of economic diplomacy, the use of arms and energy sales agreements as a tool for geopolitical influence and investment attraction, in particular Persian Gulf countries, are all sub-branches of this approach. The intervention in Syria reflects Russia’s long-term strategic goals in the MENA region. Its general objective seems to be to prevent instability in the region and to support certain minorities in the separatist countries. At the domestic level, Russia’s active participation in the MENA region is aimed at reviving imperial-era power and fostering national and anti-Western sentiments. However, according to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, only 30% of Russian respondents agree with the continuation of military operations in Syria.
But what tools does Russia have to implement its strategy? Russia’s emergent strategy is the art of adapting to changing circumstances and with limited means to achieve goals. Russia’s tools in the region are military, economic, political and diplomatic. The Russian army has been an effective tool in Russian foreign policy. As Western leaders sought to convince the world that there was no military solution to the civil war in Syria, Vladimir Putin showed that no political solution would be possible without military support.
Russia’s main interests in the MENA region are geopolitical and security. However, economic exchanges between Russia and the countries of the MENA region have developed since 2000. Energy, arms and food (especially cereals) have ready markets in the region, and Russian imports have been mainly fruits, vegetables and textiles. Russia has a clear strategy for its geographic economy. This strategy uses economic, commercial and heritage tools to achieve geopolitical objectives. Given that Russia is the second largest arms exporter in the world and one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels, it is expected that it will succeed in achieving its geopolitical goals in this way, but it will not. necessary to achieve its economic objectives.
There are almost no major players in the entire MENA region that Russia has not been able to contact. The friendship and use of all formal and informal actors, regardless of their political orientation and the constant conflicts between them, allowed Russia to play a mediating role in the region. References to examples of this action include Russia’s approach to relations with Israel and Syria, Iran and Turkey and the Persian Gulf countries, and Turkey and the Kurds. Russia’s policy is guided by the support and sometimes use of existing governments and its non-ideological approach. Nowhere in the region is Russia a full ally or a staunch enemy. And while he is not unaware of the differences in the Middle East, he knows that conflict can be deadly. Therefore, it tries to build relationships with opposition parties based on its interests in the MENA region.
Unlike the United States, which protected Israel and disagreed with NATO ally Turkey, Russia builds opportunity-based alliances that serve its interests first, then others. actors to some extent. Furthermore, the covert anti-American approach in the region and Russia’s friendly approach and pretension to use military force to support its allies have made it a key player in the region.
Ultimately, Russia is a strategic player that will remain in the MENA region for the foreseeable future. The EU and the US should engage with Russia on the basis of cooperation on issues of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism and ensuring that no country dominates the region. But a more ambitious agenda, like democracy, will require a strategy to prevent Russian influence in the Middle East. However, Russia’s role in strengthening governance structures and promoting democracy is still unclear. Due to the crisis of the political system, the MENA region is in a profound process of political transformation. Democracy is elusive, but it is unclear whether Russia’s formula of supporting current governments to ensure regional stability is a long-term political solution.
*Amin Bagheri is a member of the Iranian Association for International Studies in Tehran. His research focuses on Iran and the Middle East.