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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically grounded approaches to enduring geopolitical problems

Discussion on RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST with Dr Nikolay Kozhanov (Senior
Research fellow at the Institute of the World Economy and International Affairs (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Science and Visiting Associate Professor at the Gulf Studies Center of Qatar University).

Russian analysts periodically argue about the potential decline of Moscow’s influence in the Middle East in the long run. These negative forecasts are based on the assumption that the two main pillars of Russia’s Middle Eastern diplomacy – its military presence in Syria and the ability to play the role of a ‘third power’ capable to broker different deals in the Middle East – can face certain challenges.

On the one hand, the expected gradual end of the active phase of the Syrian war and preparations for the beginning of the political settlement of this conflict can make Moscow’s military factor less important for preserving Russia’s leading role in Syria and beyond. Moreover, Russian presence in this country is encountering growing diplomatic challenges created by the regional players (including Iran and Turkey) as well as by the silent resistance of the Syrian regime against the implementation of those minimal political changes suggested by the Kremlin.

On the other hand, Russia’s ability to play the role of a regional broker is also periodically questioned. Moscow’s influence on Houthis is limited. This makes Russia not that important for the international attempts to settle the Yemeni conflict. Russia’s relations with Israel also have occasional difficulties that undermines any Russian attempts to become a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kremlin’s attempt to bridge relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as between Saudi Arabia and Qatar were coldly received in the Arab part of the Persian Gulf. Finally, in late 2018, Moscow refused to increase arms supplies to Haftar, thus, creating a negative reaction in Tobruk and making it less encouraged to count on the Kremlin.

All these difficulties are clearly signalling to the Russian leadership that Moscow will need to be more active in securing its positions. As a result, in 2019, Russia’s presence in the region was marked by intensive efforts to strengthen its presence in the region. Moscow got more involved (not always for good) in different regional diplomatic initiatives to demonstrate its importance as well as it was more active in forming and developing new and existing alliances. However, this way of response to potential challenges is quite traditional for Moscow. From a short-term perspective it can help to improve the situation and ensure the Russian important role in the Middle Eastern affairs. Yet, in the long run, the Russian leadership will need to invent new measures to ensure its strong presence in the Middle East.

Speaker's bio

Nikolay Kozhanov is a Senior Research fellow at the Institute of the World Economy and International Affairs (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Science. He is also a Visiting Associate Professor at the Gulf Studies Center of Qatar University. From 2006 to 2009, Nikolay served as an attaché at the political section of the Russian embassy in Tehran. After the end of his tenure with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Kozhanov started the career of an independent political analyst and researcher with a special focus on modern Iran and Russian

foreign policy in the Middle East. Since that time, Dr. Kozhanov was a visiting fellow in a number of leading international think-tanks including the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and Carnegie Moscow Center. Kozhanov’s recent publications include Russia and the Syrian Conflict: Moscow’s Domestic, Regional and Strategic Interests (London, Berlin: Gerlach Press, 2016), Russian Policy Across the Middle East: Motivations and Methods (London: Chatham House, 2018); and Iran's Strategic Thinking: The Evolution of Iran's Foreign Policy 1979-2017 (London, Berlin: Gerlach Press, 2018).

Thursday, 27 June, 2019 - 17:30 to 19:00
Contact email: 
Event location: 
Lubbock Room, Peterhouse