First off, Russia has assumed the key role of setting the region’s agenda, and it’s Moscow, no other country, that’s affecting the most tangible change in the Middle East region. This development didn’t come out of nowhere, as despite the surprised reaction of many observers, Russia had been steadily growing its regional influence for decades through the management of two ultra strategic partners with Syria and Iran.
The one with Iran is relatively new and mostly goes back to the early 2000s, but the relationship with Syria began in the early 1970s and is remarkably the only Soviet-era friendship to remain unharmed and safe and sound by Soviet international impact due to the union’s implosion in the 1990s. Through the simultaneous leveraging and strengthening of each of these bilateral partnerships, plus the unified strategic overlap between them (i.e. the Syrian-Iranian Strategic Partnership), a super nexus of interests has been established, thereby setting the strategic ambiance and the multilateral pushback against so-called the West “Creative Chaos”. Unlike the US, Russia leads from the front, not from behind, and this fearless example has energized its coalition and raised the hopes of the entire multi-polar world.
Russia has no wish to see Syria become a radical Islamist state or a long-term safe haven for terror groups, with possible consequences for its own Muslim regions in the Caucasus. It’s “also concerned about the possible return to Russia of the 3,000 or more Russian-speakers currently fighting against Assad’s forces, as Igor Morozov, member of the council of federation’s foreign affairs committee, said in his meeting with a number of “Journalists from Muslim countries against extremism”, and organized by “Russia-Islamic World”, Group of Strategic Vision, that Russia “is defending its national security by defeating these extremists who constitute a high risk not only to the Russian Federation but rather to the international community”.
Thus, Putin can outline Russia’s support for government forces as conducive to defeating jihadist groups in Syria and elsewhere. But Russia’s definition of jihadist targets may extend beyond Daesh, and this is the main difference between Russia and the West on one hand and Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. Since its first airstrike to these terrorist groups in Syria on September 30, 2015, Russia has put together an alternative anti-Daesh coalition, with the Iranian and the Syrian government.
However, Russia’s correlation with Iran gives it further leverage since Moscow has played a positive and beneficial role in the long negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, but the handing over of S-300 missiles to Tehran and the deployment of S-400 missiles in Syria was a reminder that it had its own priorities in the region.
The Russian Bear likes to be there
The U.S. has failed to find a diplomatic breakthrough. This has been the main concern of many Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) which complained of the American incapability to solve the region’s issues, paving the way for the Russian bear to jump into the territory, prompting others to take Russia seriously in the Middle East.
Russian involvement in the region has made it the indispensable and unavoidable player in Syria, Ukraine and in war against terrorism. This year, events are taking unpredicted move and shifts starting with the diplomatic issue between Iran and Saudi Arabia which will lead to more Russian involvement in the region, leading to a new role of Russia on the long run. This year, we will witness a further Russian existence in North Africa as a source of stability and security.
Shehab Al Makahleh