March 08, 2017

U.S.-Russia Competition in the Middle East Is Back

By Julianne Smith and Ilan Goldenberg

The past few years have been characterized by increasing American-Russian competition all over the globe. The primary focus, has been on Russia’s ongoing efforts to challenge NATO, weaken transatlantic resolve, and intimidate its neighbors. Other than its intervention in Syria, Russia’s ambition to reassert itself in the Middle East has received far less attention. But in almost every discussion these days with Middle Eastern government officials and policy experts, it is one of the first subjects that comes up. This focus stands in strong contrast to two years ago when Russia’s role in the region was an afterthought to American engagement in the Middle East.

Russia views the Middle East as its near abroad, and is in the early stages of executing a long-term strategy in an attempt to return itself to the powerful stature and influence it had in the region during the heart of the Cold War. It is working to undercut longstanding U.S. relationships in the Middle East and restructure the regional order more to its liking. Indeed, Russia’s strategy in the Middle East is no different than its approach to undercutting NATO and the EU in Europe.

The obvious starting point was Russia’s decision to intervene in Syria in the fall of 2015 at the request of President Bashar al-Assad. The intervention is historic, representing the first time the Russians have put boots on the ground to support an ongoing conflict in the region since their support for Syria during the 1973 war with Israel. And by all accounts it has been a success, solidifying Assad’s position in Syria, protecting its single military base in the Middle East, and causing regional actors to rethink Russia’s role in the region all at a relatively low cost.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy

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