Putin – the new master of the Middle East


October 5 , 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Vesti Finance – by Inessa Sinchougova

As the Trump administration has recently begun focussing mainly on domestic policy, the strength and influence of the United States in the Middle East went down, which is a continuation of the failed policy pursued by the Obama administration.

As a result, a kind of power vacuum was created, which may now be filled. And one country is capable of taking America’s position. 

According to Bloomberg, “Israelis and Turks, Egyptians and Jordanians – they all make their way to the Kremlin in the hope that Vladimir Putin, the new master of the Middle East, will be able to ensure their interests and solve their problems.” 

And today, none other than the King of Saudi Arabia, decided to pay a visit to the Kremlin. The main issue that will be put on the agenda is the stifling of Iran, the closest Russian ally that most Arab states of the Persian Gulf consider their main enemy.

As Bloomberg admits, despite Washington’s recent position, now “American power in the region is falling noticeably,” which is a testament to the success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which not only stopped the threat of the Islamic State, but left President Bashar Assad in power, after the fact that for several years the United States insisted that he should leave. 

“Putin managed to make Russia a significant power in the Middle East,” said Dennis Ross, America’s former chief negotiator on the Middle East.

According to RT, during the current visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Moscow, the creation of a joint Russian-Saudi fund for investments in the energy sector will be announced, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. According to Novak, a basic agreement to the amount of a $ 1 billion fund has already been concluded.

Novak said that Russia “focuses on developing cooperation with Saudi Arabia not only in the framework of OPEC, but also outside the cartel”, including the energy sector, electricity and renewable energy sources. In addition, Moscow and Riyadh should announce a new investment platform and production projects. Last week, General Director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RIFF), Kirill Dmitriev, mentioned that he highly appreciated the significant results of investment cooperation between RDIF and the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.

Nevertheless, Putin’s success will bring problems, because against the backdrop of the growth of rather contradictory demands it will not be easy to satisfy the interests of all parties.

Of course, Moscow was the main power in the Middle East during the Cold War, which armed the Arab states against Israel, but since communism collapsed in the late 1980s, this  influenced the deteriorated power of Russia. When the US invaded Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Russia was a witness incapable of anything more than a protest. Nevertheless, everything began to change in 2013, when the US under Obama decided not to attack Assad. Two years later, Putin sent troops and aircraft to protect him. 

For the most part, America’s allies were against Assad. They were disappointed when the US did not deploy military forces to bring down the government completely.

“Russia’s influence in the region has grown because Obama allowed it, unfortunately,” said Khaled Batarfi, a professor at Alpheisala University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

This view is shared by many. Last month, it was expressed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who for many years had been calling for American action against Assad. 

“Negotiations with the United States did not bring any results,” he said. Turkey has now joined Russia and Iran in the de-escalation of the conflict. 

Two years ago, the tension between Putin and Erdogan threatened to intensify after the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane on the Syrian border. Last Friday, the Russian president flew to Ankara for dinner with his Turkish counterpart and “friend” who agreed to buy Russian anti-missile systems S-400. 

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Meanwhile, in the most bizarre scenario, the Saudis, who financed the rebels who fought against Assad, as well as radical al-Qaida groups and, according to Hillary Clinton, the very “Islamic state” – they are now cooperating with Russia to unite for the sake of peace talks, which, most likely, will secure the Syrian leader in power, even if Saudi Arabia broke away from its longtime ally Qatar.

Since the goal of regime change in Syria is going away, priorities are changing. Saudi Arabia and other forces of the Arabian Gulf countries are calling on Russia to reduce the role of Iran in Syria, where Hezbollah and other Shiite militias supported by Tehran provided troops for Assad’s offensive. 

“The King representing the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, which has great geopolitical weight, comes to Russia, and Russia must take this into account,” said Abdulkhalek Abdullah, a political analyst from the UAE.

However, Putin will not change his position on Iran in order to satisfy the wishes of Saudi Arabia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Russia four times in the past 18 months, also believes that it is extremely difficult to influence the Russian leader. 

In August, Netanyahu told Putin that Iran’s strengthening of the bridgehead in Syria was “unacceptable.” In September, he said that the Iranians are trying to “colonize” Syria with the goal of “destroying us and conquering the Middle East.”

Russia, however, abandoned its demand for a buffer zone inside Syria that would leave Iran and Hezbollah at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border. Instead, Russia proposed a 5-kilometer exclusion zone. 

Russia also rejected the US demand to make the Euphrates River a dividing line between Syrian government troops and US-backed forces in Eastern Syria. 

At the same time, Russia managed to maintain open channels of communication with all sides, from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian radical Islamist group Hamas to Israel, said Ayham Kamel, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Eurasia Group.

Russia adheres to the tacit consent that allows Israel to launch air strikes against Hezbollah in Syria, said Andrei Kortunov, general director of the Russian Council for International Affairs.

It mediated with Egypt to put an end to the ten-year Palestinian split between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Putin invited rival Libyan groups to Moscow, after a number of peaceful efforts of other countries did not lead to much. Russia became the leading investor in the oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan and was one of the few world powers that refrained from condemning its recent vote on independence.

The most surprising is that, in economic terms, the rivalry for influence looks rather one-sided: US GDP is 13 times larger than that of Russia. Nevertheless, this is not always a decisive factor, said Alexander Zotov, Moscow’s ambassador to Syria from 1989 to 1994. 

Although the economy is a limiting factor for Russia, Putin has another significant advantage over US presidents, according to Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. He does not have a congress to worry about, and no elections that he risks losing. Putin has behind him almost two decades at the helm of power, a long time in geopolitics – he is implementing a very consistent leadership, Salem said. 

“He talks about what he is going to do, and he does what he said he would do,” the expert said.

Of course, Washington remains an indispensable force in the region. But its commitment to traditional alliances is weakening, and this encourages regional leaders to hedge their stakes. 

“The Kremlin is on everyone’s mind,” – says Bloomberg.

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