Russia in the Middle East: Just choices between bad and worse

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 27, 2018

So now we know. Russia sees no good actors in the Middle East, just choices between bad and worse.

That insight was provided on September 25 at Princeton by Maxim Suchkov, a senior fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Mr Suchkov is also editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia and Mideast coverage.

As an account in the university’s student paper described it: “According to Suchkov, revolutions in the Middle East would be disastrous from the Russian standpoint because they see no defined ‘good’ actors in the Middle East, simply choices between bad and worse.”

He laid out the Russian view of the Middle East as follows:

** It “sees an opportunity to fill space in the Middle East, not to become the new sheriff, but to provide overseas balance.”

** Russian military action in Syria served a vital role for the Russian defense and energy market, which was shut off from the West by sanctions.

** Russia is successful in the Middle East because it is not tied to any regional country’s long-term interests, except perhaps those of Syria. It can cooperate with many partners at once, such as Israel, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

** “For the United States, Turkey is an ally, not a partner. For Russia, it is a partner, not an ally”.

Mr Suchkov’s candour is insightful but it does raise a key question: if Russia has such a poor opinion of the Middle East as to have no expectations of it at all, what price the transactional tie?