Restrictions and opportunities of Russia in West Asia

Alwaght- Russia has been pursuing an active foreign policy in some regions of Europe, especially in the neighboring Ukraine. For example Washington and Brussels, the capital of the EU, have been less successful in persuading or forcing Moscow to retreat from Crimea Peninsula than from Eastern Ukraine. One the other side, President Putin’s policies about West Asia have not been as successful as his European policies, and that is because four major factors: Conflicting interests, the effects of popular uprisings, limited means and few real allies and many rivals. These factors have stood as hindrances and kept Russia from pursuing its policies.

Mark N. Katz, a professor of George Mason University in an article published within his book Geopolitics and Democracy in the Middle East has written that “Moscow has several geopolitical interests in the Middle East. One of these is, as in other regions (most notably Europe), to prevent what it sees as American and European efforts to deprive Moscow of Its allies.” Katz continues that another Russian interest is to hold back rise of radical Sunni forces which Moscow fears will, once they get enough power, not only envelope the West Asia region and scale down Russian influence, but also infiltrate the Muslim-inhabited Russian regions.

Still another Geopolitical interest of Russia is to close the doors to the developments which could result in falling oil prices across the globe in a bid to guarantee the European countries’ reliance to the Russian oil and natural gas supplies.

Furthermore, Moscow is making efforts to boost exports including weapons, nuclear reactors and its other products that find purchasers in the rich West Asian states. This is another geopolitical interest for Moscow. The geopolitical aspect of this interest is that these products are delivered to governments and groups that support Moscow.

The fact must be taken into account that the Russian geopolitical interests in the region are not always mutually compatible. It must be noted that the objective of limiting the Western influence in the region is in conflict with the goal of preventing the rise of extremist Sunni groups in the region. Moreover, “Europe and the US share this latter goal with Russia, and a strong Western presence in West Asia and North Africa can serve this aim-provided that the US and Europe focus on this goal”, Katz suggests.

The impact of popular revolts

Before the popular uprisings of 2011, President Putin was eyeing protecting and pursuing his country’s interests through improving the ties with region’s governments as well as some significant political forces. Putin also sought boosting mutual relations with the Israeli regime despite the fact that Moscow’s interests have always been in conflict with those of Tel Aviv.

The popular revolutions have triggered significant shifts in Moscow’s strategy of West Asia and North Africa. In fact, Putin deemed the popular uprisings of these two regions as a systematic and coordinated effort for replacing pro-Russian governments with pro-Western ones.

“Many in Moscow saw Western (and their Middle East and North Africa) support for the Arab Spring as the first step in a plan to stimulate the rise of similar forces in the Muslim regions-or all-of Russia”, Katz added.

The Russian strategy since the outbreak of popular uprisings was obsessed with factors which included:

– Confronting the Western-Arab efforts within the body of the Security Council for toppling the government of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

– Providing Damascus with weapons

– Working with the regional players which opposed Assad’s downfall

– Moscow’s cooperation with the West for preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)

– Digging gaps between Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, especially through notifying the West of the fact that the Arab regimes are the real backers of the jihadi forces like ISIS terror group.

Limited means

Although Moscow holds a set of important geopolitical interests in West Asia and North Africa, it holds restricted means for realizing them. Additionally, the Russian president is not much willing to use Russian sources to obtain interests. As an example even Putin recently was unwilling to send forces to support its allies in the region. In fact, Vladimir Putin is not interested in engaging the Russian military forces anywhere in West Asia region, rather, his will is to supply allies with arms.

However, the disaccords of different regional players with the US and Europe present sources on which Moscow could specially count to obtain its interests in West Asia.

For example Washington-Baghdad’s and Washington-Cairo’s being at odds have yielded some privileges for the Russians.

But, Moscow has recently begun to face some restrictions like hurdles ahead of close ties with the Israeli regime and Moscow’s conventional ally Egypt’s falling short of funding to pay for the arms purchases from Russia.

Few real allies, many rivals

Currently the major West Asian allies of Moscow are Iran and Syria, as in the past Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi made allies for Russia. On the other hand, a majority of the region’s governments are interested in cooperation with Moscow while they are willing to work with the US and Europe too.

Also, to keep oil prices acceptably up, the oil producing countries in West Asia and North Africa need to unite efforts with Moscow. But the fact that Riyadh has made a decision to damage Russia through pushing down the oil prices is unavoidable.

The problem with Moscow’s interests is that they are in accord in some countries while they are conflicting in other countries of the region.

Russia and democracy in West Asia and Middle East

Putin seeks upholding what he considers a stable authoritarian order, therefore, he has opposed any Western support, vocal or practical, and democratization efforts in West Asia and Northern Africa.

There are four types of thought among the pro-Kremlin people on the West’s democratization of West Asia and Northern Africa:

Those who uphold rebuilding of Western-Russian relations suggest that democratization does not necessary result in appearance of pro-Western democracies in the region. Besides, they believe that West should understand that radical forces pose threat to Western and Russian interests.

There is a pessimistic view which became prevalent after the popular uprisings. It suggests that Western support of democratization in West Asia was actually aimed at toppling pro-Russian governments and replacing them with pro-Western governments.

“There are also those in Russia who argue that the Arab Spring, like the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, was an effort to promote the outbreak of similar opposition movements in the Muslim regions, or throughout Russia, with the aim of weakening or even toppling Putin”, Katz continues.

Katz also says that “there is a truly conspiratorial Russian view that Saudi Arabia is not the conservative state that the West thinks it is, but a revolutionary regime promoting Sunni jihadism and it aims at implementing the Western powers’ directions. But once the Western decision makers make out the fact that Saudi behavior poses risks to both the West and Russia, the two sides would cooperate to deter these threats.

Putin has targeted an array of geopolitical interests in West Asia and North Africa: Fighting Western influence, repelling Sunni jihadi forces, forcing up the oil prices and bolstering the Russian exports to these regions.

But pursuing successfully all these interests is difficult due to their conflicts with one another. Actually Russia holds restricted means while it has to deal with a variety of rivals in these regions.

By Alwaght