A Pax Russica for the Middle East? Putin must do more for it to stick
The direct intervention of Russia, which involved joining with Iran as well as Hezbollah to provide support to Assad’s forces on the battlefield, has resulted in a realignment between the regional powers.
Protesters demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin, Germany, against Russia’s involvement in the Syrian War. Michelle Martin/Reuters
The Gulf countries have de-engaged, and Turkey has dropped their demand that Assad go to align themselves with the new Russian Iranian axis.
This alliance of convenience, while pursuing divergent strategic goals, has placed them in control of the future of this conflict.
Ceasefires and Uncertainties
After the fall of Aleppo, Russia has intensified diplomatic efforts, alongside Turkey and Iran to a lesser degree, to broker an end to hostilities.
In January, Russia and Turkey jointly sponsored the Astana Conference.
The invitations to this event reflected the change in the balance of forces following the battle of Aleppo, as demonstrated by the selection of non-jihadist military actors invited to the discussions with representatives of the regime.
The warring parties have not held face-to-face talks, but they have committed to consolidating the ceasefire and resuming it in Geneva. This process is scheduled to begin on the 23rd of February.
This will be dependent on Russia’s view of Syria’s future. Both the US and EU have been numb, already in Syria.
Russia may want to help end the conflict in Syria and stabilize the country because this would allow it to consolidate its strategic gains within the country and beyond. Many uncertainties remain.
The Astana Conference has deepened the divisions among rebel armed groups in Syria. This may lead to further radicalization for some.
A press conference after the Syria peace talks was held in Astana on January 24, 2017.
The continuing ceasefire violations show that Russia has difficulty in keeping the Assad force and Hezbollah under control.
The long-term viability of the troika formed by Turkey and Iran may be tested soon, especially now that Donald Trump is in the White House. Ankara has expressed concern about Moscow’s plans for Kurdish autonomy after the war in Syria and has a lukewarm response to Trump’s proposal to create safe zones.
Russia and Iran have continued to have strategic differences and tactical differences. Iran’s tensions with the new US administration have already risen. How long will the Russia-Iran alliance last if the US-Russia rapprochement happens?
Russian investments in the region
Russia’s involvement in Libya has begun to bear fruit. Russia decided to support the Egypt-aligned General Khalifa Hastar, who is the leader of The Libyan National Army. They provided much promoted economic and military assistance.
Haftar’s support from Moscow has helped him to solidify his position as a key player in any political agreement. It was also a way to raise Moscow’s profile as an intermediary in the Libyan deadlock.
If Libya stabilizes, such investments could have significant returns in terms of political influence and economic and geo-strategic gains.
Moscow’s efforts are not limited to war-torn countries. Putin’s unwavering support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has strengthened its relationship with Egypt.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has shown his full support to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Alexei Druzhinin/Reuters/RIA Novosti/Kremlin
Russia’s approach to Israel has been to emphasize common interests and strengthen the existing partnership. Moscow now prioritizes pragmatic interactions with Saudi Arabia and Qatar despite the tensions in 2011-2015. , the agreement to reduce oil production shows that this has had some success.
The image of Russia as a strong country
Moscow has set goals, and so far, it seems that they have been achieved. Putin had to address domestic political unrest in the face of poor economic performance as well as perceived Western confrontations in Ukraine and “the Near Abroad.”
His return to the Middle East and North Africa region helped him galvanize popular support for his diehard image as a strong nationalist Russia capable of projecting their power.
The Russians have managed to turn the chaos that followed 2011 into an opportunity.
Has expanded its Tartus naval base, which is the only one on the Mediterranean Sea. It has also increased its influence throughout the Middle East and established the foundation for a possible new security order.
The main inspiration for this was the goal of fighting radicalization and jihadism along Russia’s borders as well as in its large Muslim population in southern regions.
Moscow’s policies have so far been based mainly on the support of strongmen, negotiating with authoritarian states, defending state structures and borders, and trying to create stability and (favorable) regional orders.
It is unlikely that the program will be able to stabilize the region on a long-term basis despite its apparent success in the short term.
Russia does not have the economic resources and political will to resolve conflicts and achieve durable stabilization.