Russia's Plan for the Middle East

January 15, 2016 Topic: Politics Region: Middle East Tags: RussiaSyriaTurkeyIranForeign Policy

Russia's Plan for the Middle East

After an explosive 2015, Moscow looks to the year ahead.

Israel may be another topic for Moscow to cautiously explore in 2016. The Israeli-Palestinian talks have become increasingly dysfunctional over the past year; should Moscow feel it has ideas for nudging them along, and senses support for such a nudge, it may become more active diplomatically. But Moscow views Israel in a broader context—as a country with serious military and intelligence capabilities. It will most likely work with the Israelis across a wide range of the regional security agenda, mainly over cooperation on Sunni radical groups and a Syrian peace settlement, while keeping its contacts relatively low-profile.

At the end of 2015, the Kremlin forecasted and feared that 2016 would bring further political crises in Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Iraq. Now, with Saudi-Iranian tensions worsening across the Middle East, this scenario seems much more certain. For its part, Moscow will continue to promote its grand vision for the Middle East as a region with a coherent security structure, which would let it cope with its own internal challenges and keep threats from bubbling up from the region, including into Central Asia and the Caucasus. The contours of the current conflict patterns in the region make this vision much harder to promote, let alone implement.

The Russian operation in Syria clearly stretches far beyond its regional goals and has much to do with setting the boundaries of what the Kremlin considers a struggle to shape the world order. However, as 2015’s three months of intensive Russian action in the Middle East revealed, Moscow often misses the global forest for the trees.

Maxim A. Suchkov is an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council and a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Russia Pulse. He was previously a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and Visiting Fellow at New York University. He is the author of Essays on Russian Foreign Policy in the Caucasus and the Middle East (NOMOS Publishers, 2015). On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ U.S. Air Force .