Moscow Unable to Revive Regional Power
The deepening of the crisis in Syria and the ongoing political unrests in Egypt have formed new pieces in the Middle East puzzle. Following the agreement reached between Moscow and Washington over the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, it seems that the US has somehow succumbed to the Kremlin’s policies. Do you agree with such an analysis?
This agreement cannot be considered as the US succumbing, because the US and Russia have begun a game in the Middle East of which the dimensions and the future are not clear. Both countries have entered and are continuing this game based on their interests. Following the events that occurred in Syria and Russia’s diplomatic victory in preventing war in Syria, the opportunity was provided for Putin to visit Cairo. This visit can be considered as another part of Russia’s policies to impact Middle Eastern affairs. On the other hand, the conditions which were created in Egypt and the problems in US-Egypt relations following the suppression of the opponents of the new government and statements made by the US based on stopping its military aids to Egypt, it seems that Russia intends to use this opportunity in order to find a new place for itself in the Middle East. Of course, the issue of Syria and Russia’s future in this country is still uncertain. Thus, it seems that this issue cannot be considered as an agreement reached between the US and Russia, but rather that these countries make the most of the opportunities which are created for them in this game.
Recently, we saw that tensions were created in US-Saudi relations and also that Washington cut its aids to Egypt. This is while the security situation in Iraq is very unstable and it seems that Vladimir Putin is also attempting to establish closer relations with Noori al-Maleki, Iraq’s Prime Minister. Is Russia attempting to revive its lost strategic power in the region?
I don’t believe that the Russians have reached the capability to revive their power in the region; even though they did not have strong footsteps in the Middle East before, what they did have was mainly the capacities and possibilities to sell arms. Under the shadow of the developments which have happened in this region during recent years, the Russians attempt to use this opportunity so that they could, on one hand, find new partners and, on the other, solve part of their problems with regard to religious radicalism. As you know, Egypt is one of the countries which plays an important role in the issue of the Islamic and religious movements and can impact the movements which follow them. After the downfall of Morsi’s government with the coup of the new administration, an atmosphere was prepared for the Russians so that, by cooperating with the new government, they would be able to limit the ideological and financial aids which Egypt used to give to these groups. It seems that the Russians pursue two short-term goals; one, controlling the radical religious movements in the region, and the other, creating opportunities to sell more arms to the countries of the region. The success of these two objectives might lead to greater influence by the Russians in the Middle East region in the future.
There has been a report in the Sunday Times about Putin’s possible visit to Egypt. What have been Russia’s policies with regard to Egypt’s developments following the downfall of Morsi?
Russia has made efforts to use the opportunities rather than to define a special game for itself or design a specific policy about the developments of Egypt and the region. It seems that the Russians have welcomed Egypt’s developments based on several reasons: First, the Russians are not happy about the revolutions which have occurred in the Arab countries which expand the process of democracy-seeking in the region. Second, Egypt is among the most important governments which was overthrown during a revolution and a democratic administration came to power and this has established an opportunity for the Russians. Third, the Russians welcomed this opportunity and later considering the tension which was created between Egypt and the West, the Russians attempted to both use this opportunity and create a new atmosphere for themselves in the region, keeping in mind that they are not hopeful that they can maintain the previous atmosphere in Syria. Thus, it seems that the Russians seek new footsteps in the region.
Can Russia replace the US in Egypt? What is the history of relations between the Egyptian generals and the Kremlin?
The Russians are faced with numerous problems and obstacles in their influence and impact in the region. The problems of the Russians in the Middle East region are more hardware-related than software-related. This means that except the arms that they sell to this region, they have nothing else to offer the Middle East countries. This is while the western countries have the upper hand in the soft power. In addition, the Islamic movements do not have good relations with Russia; even though they may not have good relations with the West either, Russia’s hand in the area of soft power is not open and it cannot play a role in this regard. As you know, under the present conditions of the Middle East, what plays a greater role is the war of different ideologies and thoughts and the future of the region depends on the victory of different movements which seek democracy and the rule of religious teachings. Therefore, the Russians do not have an open hand in this game and only play a role in the issue of selling arms or periodical aids to the governments.
What are the consequences of Russia’s greater power in the Middle East for the US? Have the Americans been exhausted by the volume of recent crises in the region and are they somehow ready to divide the task with the Russians?
There is no doubt that the US is facing more and more problems in the region everyday and is practically confronted with the conditions under which they cannot define a new atmosphere or advance the processes as they wish. But it seems impossible that the US would be ready to open the atmosphere for their old rival and prepare the ground for a country like Russia to find new space to maneuver. Although the US might accept temporary roles played by Russia under certain circumstances, they will certainly look for ways to solve this problem. It must be mentioned that Saudi Arabia also plays a role and, based on the objectives which they have set for Syria, the Saudis intend to maintain the power of the al-Sisi government in Egypt, allowing it to act as a supporter of the opposition in Syria. Of course, this issue has created complicated conditions under which, on one hand, the Russians pursue other objectives in the issue of Syria and, on the other hand, the Saudis do not want the new government in Egypt to be defeated. That is why they have used this issue to let the Russians become involved in Egypt. These trends complicate the conditions of the region everyday and it is not clear which parties of the region would, in the end, change the game to their own benefit in this tumultuous atmosphere that has been created and in these ever-changing conditions.