Russia and the New Middle East: Russia’s Predicaments both Foreign and Domestic

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Russia and the New Middle East: Inching toward a Grand Bargain

Russia is beset with predicaments both foreign and domestic.

Three alliances have been formed in the Middle East with which Russia must contend:

  • Iran and its puppets in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen;
  • Turkey, Pakistan and Qatar, which support radical Islamic groups, most importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood;
  • Israel and moderate Arab regimes (Abrahamic Jewish-Arab Alliance).

Russia maintains the balance of power among these three alliances, in order  to advance its own interests, exactly as the European powers did during their heyday in the 19th century.

One of her main tasks is ousting the United States from the region and simultaneously putting pressure on Washington in the global geopolitical games. (See addendum below) It is calculating, calibrated and clever realpolitik, contrasting with America’s ignorant, chaotic and inconsistent politics based on ideological, mercantile or personal preferences.

Israel is holding back the ambitions of both Iran and Turkey. This is a good thing from Russia’s point of view. In Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel is allied with the UAE, Egypt and Greece, which are holding back Erdogan. On a different front, Israel is cooperating against Iran and its proxies with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on all levels. 

Russia is absolutely not interested in the victory of either Iran or Turkey. Below we will explain why Moscow sees the success of these states as a direct threat to itself.

The current alliance with the Oriental despots -- Turkey and Iran -- is not durable. Historically, Moscow's relations with these countries have fluctuated in the "cold peace" - "hot war" range. We should remember that Moscow has a long and bloody history of relations with both of them, and all the peoples of Eurasia have a good memory.

Turkey

Justice and Development Party of Recep Erdogan is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which spreads its ideology among Muslims in North Caucasus, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The birth rate among the Muslims of Russia significantly exceeds the birth rate of the Slavic population, and in addition to this, gigantic masses of Muslim migrants from Central Asia rush to the Russian megalopolis.

In 2019 Muslim spiritual leader in Russia Mufti Rawil Gaynutdin said that in a decade and a half, up to 30% of Russia's population will be Muslim. According to Archpriest Dimitri Smirnov, one of the leading figures of the Russian Orthodox Church, "We, as a Russian state, have 30 years left only .... Muslims will live in the European part, and the Chinese in the Asian part."

The religiousness of Russian Muslims is much higher than that of the Russians themselves.  A militant Islam is rapidly infiltrating through the “soft underbelly” of Russia: the Volga region with ancient Russian cities Izhevsk, Cheboksary, Ufa, Penza, Saransk, and, of course, Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, a large scientific and industrial center in the country.

After the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, “Ikhwan al-Muslimun,” was gaining power, Russia's Supreme Court was forced to ban it in Russia.

A nationalist Islamist group, Tatar Youth Union, “Azatlyk” (Freedom) has been operating in Tatarstan since 2013. It strives to reestablish ancient Tatar Khanate. Turkey supports Tatar nationalist movements here and in Crimea.

Erdogan favors Ukraine in its dispute with Russia about the future of Crimea.

The interests of Turkey and Russia have collided practically everywhere in the Middle East -- from Syria to Libya, and now in the Caucasus. Moscow is extremely concerned about the strengthening of Turkey here and the appearance of jihadist groups in the Karabakh region during the current Armenian-Azerbaijan dust up.

Recently, the Turkish TV channel TGRT, which is considered close to Recep Erdogan, showed a map forecasting the expansion of Ankara's sphere of influence. This map included not only Greece, the Balkans, Northern Africa and practically all the Middle East, Transcaucasia and Central Asia but even part of Russia itself, including Crimea, Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, Rostov and Astrakhan Regions, Kalmykia, other regions of southern Russia, as well as the Donbass Republics of the DPR and LPR in Ukraine.

Iran

What about Iran? From the very beginning Iran was a conditional ally of the Kremlin. Moscow used political and military assistance to the Islamic Republic as a lever of pressure on Washington and a tool to assert its influence in Syria.  At the same time, the pro-government media and the Russian expert community have never concealed their skepticism towards this country.

"Russia is a secular state advocating a secular Syria ... Iran is focused on strengthening and spreading Shiite influence. 

“Second, Iran regards Israel as its worst enemy, while Russia cooperates moderately with it on security issues. 

“Third, despite the cooperation on Syria, Moscow and Tehran, in fact, continue to remain competitors not only in the Middle East, but in Central Asia and the Caspian,"

wrote in the popular newspaper Rosbalt in 2017.

And there is the most significant argument:

"Iran and Russia are competitors in the hydrocarbon market, and the Iran does not hide its determination to increase oil production, thereby blocking a large segment of the European market from Russia".

By other words, in certain circumstances Moscow would even be glad to eliminate its rival.

In the context of the dramatic history between two countries (from the assassination famous Russian diplomat and poet Griboyedov in the 19th century by the Persians to the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August 1941), such cooperation looks quietly problematic in the long term.

Friction between the two semi-allies is escalating. On September 30, 2020 Russian Lieutenant General Sergey Chvarkov called for a reduction in the Iranian presence in Syria. He said:

"Further large-scale penetration of Iran into Syria will create a number of serious obstacles to the promotion of reforms and the development of the political process in Syria, and will lead to complications in relations with Israel, the USA, Turkey and the Sunni Arab countries".

The assassination of former pro-Russian militia commander Muhammad al-Masri in early September was, as it appears, the result of a struggle for influence in Syria.

Thus, Russia's alliance with its eastern neighbors is an alliance of enemies, and nothing more.

Thus, both Turkey and Iran pose a serious threats to the internal stability and integrity of Russia.

And not only them.

China

China is no less a threat to the Russians in the near future.

Since the 17th century, Russia has constantly clashed with China in the Far East. The first Sino-Russian border conflicts occurred in 1649-1689.

The last hostilities were conducted in 1969 in the area of Damansky Island on the Ussuri River. Russia is well aware of China's territorial claims, as well as the economic penetration of the Chinese in the Far East and Siberia. The demographic situation in this area is rapidly changing in favor of China.

According to Evgeny Bazhanov, Vice-Rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry,

“... they [the Chinese] continue to believe, it can be read in their textbooks, that once the lands from Lake Baikal and to the East were in the sphere of influence of China and only then came to Russia".

According to Vice-President of the Center for Political Technologies Sergei Mikheev,

“if Chinese migration continues at the same pace, then the number of Chinese may reach such a figure that they will demand representation in government. As a result, Russia will be forced to adjust its domestic policy to the interests of China."

Beijing pays cash bonuses to Chinese who marry Russian women, and the bonus increases when children are born. Vladimir Putin:

“If in the near future we do not take practical steps to develop the Far East, within several decades, the Russian population will speak Chinese, Japanese and Korean."

Despite the peace-loving rhetoric about Russian-Chinese friendship, fear of a powerful giant in the East is growing in the country. "[in Moscow] began to be seriously afraid of China" - Russia underestimated the military ambitions of Beijing," the analytical publication IA REGNUM writes.

In Russia, the joke is becoming more and more popular: "Everything is calm on the Sino-Finnish border...".

For Moscow, an alliance with the West would be much safer and much more desirable than a "marriage of convenience" with China, Turkey and Iran, on terms of course that the USA and Europe do not interfere in the internal affairs of Russia and its "Near abroad".

The USA could, for its own benefit, follow the path of Kissinger – but this time to unite with Moscow against the growing and ambitious China. In such case, Russia could have joined the US alliance with Japan, India, Australia, Taiwan and South Korea. This would make it possible to block the spread of China's influence.

Unfortunately, the policy of the United States, especially of the Democrats, makes such a scenario impossible. Instead, the West tries to dictate to the Kremlin, imposes its will on it and undermines the interests of Moscow in its "backyard".

Therefore, Russia is interested in dragging the United States even more into the quagmire of Middle East and international conflicts, in order to weaken and exhaust it as much as possible and distract from the Russian "Near Abroad." But at the same time, Moscow will further push the US to withdraw from the Middle East. One does not exclude the other. On contrary, one goal complements the other.

As can be seen from the above, Russia has many predicaments to deal with and the US just adds to their burdens.

It follows that as the Biden administration creates daylight between the US and Israel, Russia will be there to fill the void.

 

ADDENDUM

Maistrovoy wrote: "One of its main tasks is ousting the United States from the region and simultaneously putting pressure on Washington in the global geopolitical games"

Belman: I don't understand why this would make it better for Russia. Wouldn't Russia prefer the US as a partner in Syria rather than Iran.

Maistrovoy: Hypothetically, of course, Russia would no doubt prefer cooperation with the US as a partner in Syria rather than Iran. But in reality, Biden and his administration, as we know, does not want to cooperate with Russia, but on the contrary, makes all sorts of problems.

Belman:  If Biden continues to court Iran, Turkey and China, would Russia not want to court the US.

Maistrovoy:  Russia will not court the United States in any case -- this is not the mentality of the Russians, and it is not the mentality of Putin. On the contrary, he will use the rest of the players to weaken the United States. And since the United States is extremely inconsistent, clumsy and inept in world politics, Russia will oust them.

Belman: Or would Russia expect the US to align with each of these countries at Russia's expense?

Maistrovoy: They will never unite against Russia, because they do not trust the United States in general and Biden in particular. All the more so when the United States reads them moral teachings about democracy, human rights, etc.

Belman: If Russia brought to the table a Syria willing to abandon Iran for the Gulf states, It would be a big bargaining chip.

Maistrovoy: Yes, in theory. In practice, the United States makes Russia its main enemy. How, after that, could Russia be brought to the table? Why would it abandon Iran if Iran poses a threat to America? Russians act on the simple principle: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

China, Turkey and Iran are only temporary allies of Russia. Russia needs them to ease American pressure, nothing more. Today America is the main enemy of Russia, because it seeks to change the Russian regime. It is very, very dangerous for Putin. This leaves Russia no choice but to go with Asian countries. But all of them are not her strategic friends in any way.

Photo credit: Dmitri Sevastopol Pixabay License

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