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memri
November 9, 2017 No.
7171

Russia's Policy In The Middle East: 'We Have Crossed The Rubicon'

On October 27, political analyst Aleksandr Vedrussov published an article in the pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper Izvestia, titled "The Middle East Rubicon", explaining why the Gulf countries have changed their views on Moscow. According to the author, Russia has "crossed the Rubicon" in its relation with Middle East countries. Vedrussov elaborates: "We have crossed the Rubicon – this point beyond which all the Gulf countries, regardless of their subjective attitude towards Russia, are trying to build constructive relations with us: from minimally necessary mechanisms of coordination of actions to strategic partnership."

Vedrussov states that Russia's policy is motivated by pure pragmatism. He then adds: "Russia's strength lies in the fact that we are not in the habit of playing a zero sum game on a global scale. We do not think that the advantage of one side necessarily means losses for the other. Our approach is incredibly simple: here are our interests — let us see how we can connect them with yours by building mutually advantageous cooperation. [All this takes place] without arm-twisting. without tough ultimatums, without demands 'not to sit on two chairs', i.e. to break relations with other partners."

The author also compares Russia favorably with the U.S., He argues that, contrary to Russia that stands by its partners, Washington abandons its partners in the Middle East at the very first opportunity simply because it is expedient.

The following are excerpts from Vedrussov's article:[1]


Alexandr Vedrussov (Source: Vesti.ru)

'Pure, Almost Refined, Pragmatism'


Sergey Shoygu with Qatari Minister of Defense Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah (Source: Mil.ru)

"This week [on October 25], the Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu made his first official visit to Qatar in the history of our bilateral relations; during its course, a strategically important agreement on military and technical cooperation between the two countries was signed.[2] Only yesterday, this was almost unimaginale that Russia would feel so confident in a region that while not considered hostile territory was nevertheless quite unfriendly. In fact, we have crossed the Rubicon –beyond which the Gulf countries, regardless of their subjective attitude towards Russia, are each trying to build constructive relations with us: from minimally necessary mechanisms for coordinating actions to strategic partnership.

 

"With all that, we have finally learned to preserve a demonstrative neutrality, constructing our relations on a pragmatic, non-ideological basis. As if we are saying: we do not need your oil (this is not what we came for, although, as the saying goes, we are open to any suggestions), we do not want to overthrow regimes or bomb countries under the pretext of their nonconformity to some ephemeral, unilaterally declared 'democratic' or other norms. We only want, firstly, to ensure the security of our country on the periphery by wiping out dens of terrorism in the region, and secondly, to build long-term trade and economic relations on a mutually beneficial basis. [This is] pure, almost refined, pragmatism.

 

"As a result, the countries of the region are treating our promises and guarantees with ever increasing consideration. In stark contrast to the Americans or Europeans, who may suddenly bring all their military power down on those with whom only yesterday they were all but kissing (the tragic example of war-torn Libya is for everyone to see).

 

"History knows too many examples of former allies and partners becoming fierce enemies in an instant. That is why the Russian, 'gentlemanly', approach is so valuable. Americans, for example, abandon their partners at the first opportunity just because it is expedient. In this respect, Syria is a case in point — Moscow is not casting away ally even when a significant part of the international community is against it.

 

"The Bloomberg news agency has already christened Russia 'the new mistress the Middle East'. After a number of unforgivable mistakes made by Americans, Russia, supposedly 'torn to shreds' by the U.S., moved into the resulting vacuum, slowly but steadily regaining the status of a global player that the Soviet Union used to have once.

 

'We Are Not In The Habit Of Playing A Zero Sum Game On A Global Scale'

Saudi King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in Moscow on October 5, 2017. (Source:Tass.com)

 

"Russia's strength is in the fact that we are not in the habit of playing a zero sum game on a global scale. We do not think that the advantage of one side necessarily means losses for the other. Our approach is incredibly simple: here are our interests — let us see how we can connect them with yours by building mutually advantageous cooperation. [This is done] without arm-twisting, without tough ultimatums [and] without demands 'not to sit on two chairs', i.e. to sever relations with other partners.

 

"This approach generates respect and has already started to bear fruit.

 

"That is why, after several years of grueling negotiations, Russia and Saudi Arabia — one of the most important players in the Middle East and the world commodity market — finally came to an agreement about coordinated actions in order not to allow hydrocarbon prices to go down, since their sale is the biggest internal revenue source for both countries. Thanks to this pragmatic, mutually beneficial approach, Moscow and Riyadh received additional multi-billion income and were convinced in practice that this guileless procedure of coordinating interests works well, which means it can be used many times in the future.

 

"Moreover, the historic visit of the king and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to Moscow became a sign of an almost titanic shift in Riyadh's position on the Syrian question.[3] What else could be done under the circumstances when about 90% of the Syrian territory are freed from terrorists thanks largely to the Russian Aerospace Forces, which even Rex Tillerson, head of the U.S. State Department, had to acknowledge?

 

"And now Sergey Shoygu is visiting Qatar. One could view this it as a spoke in the Saudi Arabian wheel, considering the well-known conflict between Doha and Riyadh. But in fact, Russia continues its policy of recent years: to talk to all the sides, even if they are irreconcilable enemies. It brings one reputational dividends at the very least: as it turns out, with a good mediator, even enemies may eventually sit down at the negotiating table. In addition, good intentions with a hint of pragmatism may result in material advantage as well. We already have contracts with the Saudis totaling billions. And Qatar is planning to buy S-400 air defense systems from Moscow.

 

"It is not by chance that they say 'The East is a delicate matter'. It is as unstable as Arabian Desert sand. And of course, nobody is insured against mistakes. But, despite all this, the game is worth the candle."

 

 

[1] Iz.ru, October 27, 2017.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7157, Russia-Qatar Relations, November 1, 2017.