Book ReviewsReviews

Russia in the Middle East

Introduction

This Book “Russia in the Middle East” is a joint venture by some of the world’s most renowned authors Theodore Karasik and Stephen Blank. The book was published in the year 2018 and gives us a sound understanding of the Russian interests and strategy in the Middle East.

Summary

According to the literature extensively examined by the authors on the topic of Russia in the Middle East, a recent analysis has been presented by the author in which he puts forth the point of view that Russian strategy in the Middle East is mostly and understandably focused on Syria. This means that the Russian Federation has been giving less attention and focus to its relations with other Middle Eastern states in the region. In the year 2016, it was also seen that Russia was still occupied in the Syrian events and therefore, policy makers and analysts found it quite difficult to formulate a regional strategy as far as Russia’s interest in Middle East are concerned. The question of whether Russia had a regional foreign policy was actually left unaddressed by most of the analysts.

Russian in the Middle East

In this book, the authors endeavor to elucidate a perspective that is used to identify the significant elements of the Russian interests in the Middle East that are actually beyond the Syrian conflict. This is done in order to define the actual nature of the engagement of Russia with the Middle Eastern region and the different outlines of the Russian strategy in the Middle East. It is obvious that the Russian objectives have objectives and goals but to the western policymakers these goals appear to be generalizable, mainstream, or transactional and they are not enough to constitute a broad regional or global strategy. This perspective is to some extent accurate, but the authors of this book suggest that Russia does have a functional but generalized strategy that is constitutive of a broad regional approach. According to the author, the Russian Federation’s regional strategy lies in its constant search for improving its short-term military, economic, and political advantages while on the other hand reducing the advantages of the enemies or adversaries.

In the second chapter of the book, the author brilliantly describes the fact that the Russian presence in the Middle east is also supported by the Arabs in the sense that their views about Russian in the MENA and the overall Middle eastern region has changed gradually and now, the Arab states are using Russia as a go-to power after the United States of America. This is something that was never seen before in history. This is also because the policies of Russia in the region are now more pragmatic rather than ideological, and this allows them to build strong relationships will almost all the middle eastern nations of the region without aligning with one particular ideology or sect in the region.

Right in the next chapter, the authors talk about the Iran-Russian conundrum which points out the same fact. On one hand, the Russians have supported the activities of Iran, especially in Syria against the interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia, while on the other hand, the Russians have also been busy building good relations with the Al-Sauds as well. This is something that creates an apparent paradox but considering the fact that the Russian are totally considering their policy to be pragmatic and interest-based, this is understandable.

Moving on to the next chapter, the author then describes the Russian role in the Middle East with regard to relations with Turkey. In this part of the book, the author describes how there was a shift in the relations between the Turkey-Russian relations after the failed coup in Turkey. Previously when a Russian jet was shot down by Turkey, the overall relations became quite tense. But after Putin supported Erdogan against the controversial coup attempt, allegedly supported by the U.S., the Turkey-Russia relations have become quite cordial ever since.

In the remaining chapters,  the author talks about significant strategies by Russia such Hybrid warfare which includes the exploitation of ethnic issues against the enemies in the region in order to safeguard the Russian interests; Financing different groups and movements that weaken the resources and strength of the opposition; and indulging itself in a type of information warfare which includes a sustainable approach which sees Russia as a strong player in the Middle after half a decade and even more. By 2025, Russia would a strong influencer in the Middle East which would not only serve as an economic partner but a strong political ally to many of the regional states and this is something that is viewed negatively by the Western states.

Analysis and Key Findings

Overall, the key findings of this book include: Firstly, the Russian Federation may not have a clear ends-driven regional strategy which is obvious by its focus in only the Syrian crisis; secondly, the Russian Federation is constantly seeking to improve and develop its short-term military, economic, and other political advantages and on the other hand, sinking the short-term benefits of prospective opponents. Thirdly, the Russia Federation promotes and advocates its ability that it can use to interact with as many state and non-state actors in the Middle East as it desires while on the other hand, the most of relationships of the Russian Federation with the Middle Eastern states are best branded as transactional and are bounded by “overwhelming obstacles.” And lastly, the Middle East states are using the Russian Federation as an alternative that can use in order to signal to the West that the policies of the West are not in favor of the Middle East. This is clear by the manner in which the Arab states see the role of Russian in MENA. Furthermore, in this book, the authors have also asserted that the Russian Federation is also making a concerted effort to regain its character as the arms supplier of choice for Arab administrations.

Russian in the Middle East

Conclusion

We can conclude and say that the book is reflective of the current contemporary trends in the Middle East and the role of Russia in the trends. According to the author, Russia is seeking a stronghold in the Middle East to the point that it is able to effectively influence the activities in the region and it is also able to shape the outcomes in this specific region. But in reality, the Russian Federation is struck with a lack of means that actually limits and hinders the prospects of what the Russian Federation can actually achieve. So, as the Middle East countries have the greatest power and ability to determine the feasibility or viability of any Russian strategy that comes there way, The Middle Eastern states are likely to indulge in long-term economic, military, and energy deals with the Russians as a part of their multifaceted Russia’s multifaceted diplomatic relations and contemporary interventionist trend.

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Hamza Yaqoob

Hamza Yaqoob is a Pakistani author and journalist. He is an IR Graduate with expertise in South China Sea affairs. He is the Editor-in-chief of Revelation World PK, and currently working as a Senior Technical Writer at a Real Estate firm in Islamabad.

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