Russian Foreign Policy in the Middle East: New Challenge for Western Interests?
Russian strategy in the Middle East comprises several elements. First,Moscow is persistent in defending what it sees as its red lines in the region. Thus, Russia is against any military intervention not approved by the UN Security Council. It does not welcome forced regime change if it leads to the destruction of existing state mechanisms. The Kremlin is also concerned about any change of borders in the Middle East, and it is firmly against any dialogue with radical Islamists and jihadists. Moscow’s flexibility has enabled it to talk to different forces in the region and, if necessary, play the mediator’s role. However, Russia is respected by Syria’s regional opponents, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for the stubbornness it demonstrates when defending its own red lines in the region. Accordingly, the Saudis and Qataris are compelled to take Russia’s point of view into account and retain some dialogue with the Kremlin.
Second, Russia seems to be trying to reclaim its Cold War role as acounterweight to the U.S. in the region. Yet, the Kremlin does not directly oppose Washington, but rather exploits the region’s pre-existing disappointment with the U.S. through practical moves, which contrast American and European behavior. Thus, the reluctance of Washington to protect Mubarak, compared with the Russian support provided to Assad,encourages regional powers to consider Moscow a more reliable partner.
Third, Moscow avoids using ideological rhetoric in its official dialogue with the countries of the region.Unlike in the former Soviet space,the Russian leadership does not impose its views either by force or by means of economic coercion. In dialogue with the countries and political groupings of the region, Moscow tries to focus on existing commonalities rather than differences and contradictions. In all cases, the Kremlin also remains extremely pragmatic. Russia does not raise the question of political freedoms in Iran and tries not to be critical of Israel’s policies in Palestine and Gaza in spite of its support for a two-state solution. Moscow tries to support a dialogue with all countries in the region without expressing obvious support for any particular state or coalition, and, so far, it has been partly successful in doing so.
Finally, in its economic efforts, the Kremlin focuses on those areas where it has market advantages: nuclear energy, oil and gas, petro-chemicals, space, weapons, and grain. At the same time, Russian business in the Middle East is based on the adage of “Chinese price for European quality.”Thus, price and reliability were the main reasons for interest from Middle Eastern countries in Russian nuclear technologies.