Russian policy in the Middle East

The Middle East and North Africa are experiencing a fundamental geopolitical transformation

The Middle East and North Africa are experiencing a fundamental geopolitical transformation that could result in the demolishing of state institutions in some countries and their transition into failed states. The state borders are breaking and might continue to change. These processes can be explained by a number of reasons, the main of them is the region’s past colonial heritage: many countries emerged when the global leaders redrew the map after the First World War. The second important reason is the foreign intervention of non-regional forces that considerably worsen the situation.

As a result of these actions the regional challenges and threats are escalating and new challenges emerge, such as the non-controllable rise outburst of radical Islamism and terrorism, and a number of new terror groups that pose threat not only to the Middle East, but also to other countries and regions, including Russia.

One of the most serious source of instability is Syria. The military conflict in the country that started more than five years ago is difficult to resolve because Syria became a center of collision of several regional and non-regional powers, each of them pursuing their own interests. The Syrian conflict originated because the country is a very important transit territory that can host major routes for energy resources transportation. Not long before the Arab revolution the government launched efforts to build a network of oil and gas pipelines connecting Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan. In 2000 Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt signed a joint agreement on the construction of “pan-Arabic” AGP gas pipeline. Not long before the Arab spring Syria, Iraq and Iran signed an agreement on the construction of “Islamic gas pipeline” with an estimated capacity of 110 million cubic meters of natural gas per day. In the beginning of 2011 Bashar Assad proposed a “Four Seas Strategy” to link Syria, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan into a single oil and gas transportation network with an access to the Mediterranean Sea.

But it soon turned out that Syria was not only a transit zone for gas transportation, but also a major potential oil supplier. Early in April of 2013 Damascus reported the discovery of 14 new oil reserves in Syrian territorial waters. These reserves are located on a five thousand square kilometers territory, and some experts think that the amount deposited of oil reserve within the continental shelf is comparable to the capacity of all oil deposits in Kuwait.

From the very beginning of the Syrian crisis Russia took a consistent and uncompromising stand advocating sovereign states and nations to define their political future independently, without foreign intervention. The diplomatic initiative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the elimination of chemical weapons helped prevent military invasion of this country repeating the “Libyan scenario”. This initiative became further evidence of a fundamental change in Russia's foreign policy that transitioned from reactive to proactive approach. Previously Russia only reacted on the current events, but now it has turned to a proactive policy focused on defending its national interests and regional security. However, the arrangements that basically prevented the US invasion of Syria were received badly by some of the American establishment who considered them a threat to the US regional and global leadership.

Russia’s antiterrorist operation in Syria that began in the fall of  2015 demonstrated its return to the global stage as a major power. Russia directly intervened in the conflict, when the Assad’s regime was on the edge of the downfall and the radical Islamic groups could take over Damascus. The jihadist’s victory could lead to a considerable growth of their support in the Islamic world, including Central Asia and Russia’s Muslim population. That’s why the key purpose of Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria was to weaken and destroy the islamic terrorist groups in this country.

The West met Russia’s actions in Syria from the perspective of enhancing its influence in the region, which resulted in a campaign to undermine Russia’s operation in public opinion. All this year the western media have been reporting that Russian air strikes kill civilians and Russian Aerospace Forces target opposition instead of terrorists in order to support Assad’s regime.

Although the US formally refused to join the antiterrorism operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria, they had to acknowledge the success of the Russian troops. Both sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria and expressed their willingness to act as mediators and guarantors at the conclusion of a peace agreement between the various forces in Syria. Sadly, as we approach the US presidential election, the joint efforts to seek a peaceful settlement in Syria reached a deadlock. President Obama will soon leave office, and his opponents accusing him of failing to defend US interests in the region, decided to combine their efforts to reverse the situation in Syria in favor of a military solution to the conflict and at the same time weaken the Russian position.

Due to these efforts the joint plan to resolve the conflict in Syria adopted on the 9th of September in 2016 after long negotiations between the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov never entered into force because of the provocation of the Western coalition on September, 17th of 2016 when the coalition executed air strikes targeting the positions of the Syrian army near Deir ez-Zor airport. Shortly after that US State Department spokesman George Kirby made threatening statements against Russia and its armed forces. The information war against Russia’s operation in Syria considerably complicates the efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Russia's regained influence, lost after the collapse of the USSR, and moreover Russia’s potential to replace the US in the Middle East, raise deep concern of the Western experts, who admit that America is losing its authority and influence in the Middle East region and does not seem to be the only state capable to change the global developments or define them. Even Zbigniew Brzezinski known as an ardent russophobe and active proponent of American leadership, stated in his article published by «The American Interest» in April 2016: "As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture[1].”

The new US president Donald Tramp will inevitably have to face these new challenges. And according to H. Kissinger this means that “the U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world”[2].

The aggressive behavior towards Russia and the rejection from a peaceful settlement in Syria leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the emphasis is on the military pressure on those countries that are no longer willing to acknowledge the superiority of the American system and monocentric world order. Such an approach will sooner or later inevitably strike back and will force the US to acknowledge the new global realities.

Now Russia is making great efforts to build a coalition of regional countries that will support a fastest stabilization of the situation in the Middle East, resolving conflicts in the region, combating terrorism and the conservation of territorial integrity. The region's Arabic and non-Arabic countries have different policies towards the states that are ceased by the turbulence because each country has its own ambitions.  Nevertheless, these countries are facing the consequences of these revolutionary shocks in a number of countries in the Northern Africa and the Middle East, especially in Libya and Syria.

As a world power Russia is ready to offer partnership to all those who share the concept of a multi central world. Normalization of the situation in the Middle East and prevention of emerging centers of instability will create possibilities prerequisites for involving the region into major infrastructural projects developed by China, India and other countries.


[1] Whitney M. The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire //August 25, 2016// Counter Punch

[2] Kissinger H. A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse Oct. 16, 2015. URL: (last visited: 19.03.2016).

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