Emirates Policy Center (EPC) on Wednesday organized a lecture in Abu Dhabi that touched upon Russia’s policy towards the Middle East, its limitations, shifts, and future.
EPC President, Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi said that Russia, motivated by its strategic interests and the need to protect Russian national security, resorted to direct military intervention in the Syrian crisis in Sep. 2015. Through this intervention, Moscow was able to change military realities on the ground, has turned into a major actor in this crisis, and is now considered the most influential international power in deciding the future trajectory and fate of the crisis, Dr. Al-Ketbi added.
She pointed out that Russia’s intervention in Syria coincided with the American inaction during the Obama Administration, which enabled Moscow to fill the vacuum created by this inaction, not only in Syria, but also in the Middle East as a whole; thus, changing the geopolitical realities in the region and making regional countries to take into consideration Moscow’s role and policies in their calculations.
HE Veniamin Popov, who is a former Russian ambassador, Director of the Center for Partnership of Civilizations in Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the MoFA of Russian Federation, and Coordinator of the Group of Strategic vision “Russia-Islamic world” said that Russia’s direct military intervention in Syria was not aimed at preserving Moscow’s strategic interests in Syria alone, but to protect Russia’s security as well.
Popov pointed out that 4,000 Russians are fighting along terrorist organizations in Syria, which poses a threat to Russia’s security if those fighters return home. He affirmed that 20% of the total Russian population of 150 million are Muslims.
He reiterated that despite Russia’s return to the international and regional scene, Moscow has no hegemonic ambitions in Syria, Iraq or any other country as the West claims. He explained that Russia was forced to intervene militarily in Syria.
He stressed that Russia gives importance to its ties with the Muslim World; therefore, as part of President Putin’s initiative, Moscow asked to join the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as an observer state.
On his part, Dr. Wassim Khalil Kalaajieh, who is a researcher and specialist in Russian affairs and a member of the Group of Strategic vision “Russia-Islamic world pointed out that Russia’s foreign policy is pragmatic in nature; one that rests on geopolitical interests and a “Eurasian” doctrine as opposed to the Western “Atlantic” doctrine.
As for Russia’s relations with GCC countries, Dr. Kalaajieh stated that Moscow has recently shown a keen interest in developing its ties with the Gulf nations while these countries, in turn, adopted a rational policy towards the return of Russia to the region and its military intervention in Syria. As a result, GCC officials started to pay official visits to Russia and the two sides concluded several economic deals.
Dr. Kalaajieh made it clear that the UAE was the GCC nation that best understood Russia’s policy in the region, which gives the country a special status in Moscow’s foreign policy. He added that the visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to Russia on March 2016 played a key role in cementing rapprochement between the two sides.
Dr. Kalaajieh stated that the GCC-Russian relations are facing a number of challenges, notably the growing relations between Russia and Iran. However, he stressed that despite the deep interests that both countries share, Russia employs these relations to serve its own interests. He added that Moscow does not intend to establish a comprehensive strategic or military alliance with Tehran since this would negatively affect its relations with other regional powers, particularly, GCC nations. Lastly, he stated that Russia is eager to achieve a real breakthrough in its relations with the Gulf region and Egypt since such partnership would enhance the strategic balance that Russia has always sought to maintain in the region.
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