Russia in the Middle East: From sidelines to centre stage

21-11-2018

In 2011, it looked as if the Arab Spring uprisings would deal a further blow to Russia's declining influence in the Middle East, by toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow's few remaining allies in the region. In 2015, Russia launched a military intervention. Though it came at an enormous humanitarian cost, the campaign succeeded in saving Assad's regime, at the same time as reversing the Middle Eastern fortunes of Russia as Assad's main international backer. Russia's involvement in Syria has given its relations with neighbouring countries a new momentum. Despite divergent interests, Iran, Turkey and Israel cooperate with Russia and acknowledge its leadership in Syria. Russia's success in imposing its agenda in Syria has bolstered its influence throughout the wider region. Although Moscow's role is not always a constructive one, it has become a key actor and sometimes a mediator in regional conflicts from Libya to Yemen. Russia's regional clout is also helped by its skilful use of energy cooperation to further economic and geopolitical interests. Russia's drive to become a major Middle Eastern player should be seen in the wider context of global geopolitical rivalry with the United States. Moscow's growing influence in the region is as much the result of Western policy failures as its own strength.

In 2011, it looked as if the Arab Spring uprisings would deal a further blow to Russia's declining influence in the Middle East, by toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow's few remaining allies in the region. In 2015, Russia launched a military intervention. Though it came at an enormous humanitarian cost, the campaign succeeded in saving Assad's regime, at the same time as reversing the Middle Eastern fortunes of Russia as Assad's main international backer. Russia's involvement in Syria has given its relations with neighbouring countries a new momentum. Despite divergent interests, Iran, Turkey and Israel cooperate with Russia and acknowledge its leadership in Syria. Russia's success in imposing its agenda in Syria has bolstered its influence throughout the wider region. Although Moscow's role is not always a constructive one, it has become a key actor and sometimes a mediator in regional conflicts from Libya to Yemen. Russia's regional clout is also helped by its skilful use of energy cooperation to further economic and geopolitical interests. Russia's drive to become a major Middle Eastern player should be seen in the wider context of global geopolitical rivalry with the United States. Moscow's growing influence in the region is as much the result of Western policy failures as its own strength.