In part 1 of this series, we discussed the history of Russian involvement in the Middle East and in part 2, we discussed the variety of tools they use to gain power and exert influence in the region. In the third and final part of this series we will discuss the goals and visions that Russia has for the Middle East. Now that we understand the tools that Russia uses and how they have used them in the past, we can better understand how they will use these tools to achieve their goals. Russia has a different vision for each country it interacts with and those visions often change, but they are guided a few major goals.
Russia’s history in the Middle East began as that of a regional power. Regional powers have goals that will allow them to maintain strength among their neighbors. These include building economic reliance, strong alliance and proxies, and establishing a strong military presence to prevent rivals from moving against them. While Russia has grown into a global power, their goals have not changed as much as one would believe. They have just grown to a larger scale with their increased global stature. Russia still seeks to exert extensive control over the Middle East. Whereas most global powers seek to sway larger movements and overall strategy, Russia seeks a more micromanaged control. Russia involves itself in every facet of every internal issue within the countries it seeks to dominate.
With the United States becoming exhausted from the wars in the Middle East and slowly but surely retreating from their entrenchment, Russia has found an opening. To make itself a friendly power it plays on the narrative of their respect for national sovereignty against Western interventionism despite their continual power grabs in the region. This is Russia’s driving force and a key part of their goal. Russia seeks to replace the United States in the Middle East and do it better. Russia’s main goals are power and money in the region. They seek to gain power over the local people and use that power for economic gain.
One such attempt is to replace the US as the main arms supplier to Middle Eastern nations. The arms market in the Middle East can be a huge economic bolster to Russia and will gain them power by being the arms supplier to government and non-governmental organizations alike. To keep arms sales going it is important to keep conflict brewing in the Middle East and to stir fears of Western intervention and war. Russia does this through alliances with Iran, provoking fear of Western intervention in their nuclear program, and with Syria by propping up the Assad regime and prolonging the Syrian conflict.
Russia also uses its energy resources to gain power and economic growth. The supply of energy to Middle Eastern countries is a vastly growing market with their oil reserves and the recovery from conflicts that brings a greater need for energy supplies. These resources are sold at a premium to pro-Russian Middle Eastern and Eastern European nations that not only nets Russia a vast amount of wealth but also instills a reliance on Russian resources to operate. As the Middle East grows and (albeit very slowly) modernizes their will be a significant need for natural resources and the technology to convert those resources into usable energy.
The difference between Russia and other nations is that Russia doesn’t care about the stability of any nation in the Middle East. Russian strategy dictates that they replace the United States and gain control in the region. Should a nation destabilize Russia will simply shift its tactical resources to another state in the region. While the United States views destabilization as bad for business around the globe, Russia will only expend resources to stabilize a nation if it helps them gain control and economic power as it has in Syria. Russian power will continue to grow in the Middle East unless other powerful nations or organizations, such as the United States, EU, NATO, or UN, step in to exert influence to counter Russia. Their strategy of creating economically and politically dependent states in the region will continue to drive the expenditure of their resources and their tactical moves. Keeping in mind their strategy is essential when reading the reports of Russian actions in the region and in doing so will allow others to effectively counter Russian growth.