News / Middle East

Russia, US Still Competing for Influence in Middle East

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin.
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
Escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia have revived memories of an era many thought was long gone, when Washington and Moscow competed for influence in the Middle East during the Cold War.

These days, there are still competing interests, analysts say, but not enough to fuel a renewed Cold War front.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Russian footprint remains.

“The most interesting case is Egypt where Russia has stepped in with prospects of arms sale when the U.S. has cut back on arms transfer to Egypt,” said Mark Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Virginia.

With its support of the Syrian regime and its determination to prevent a Western military action against the Syrian regime, Russia has re-emerged as a central player in the Middle East, analysts say.
 
It is perceived by some analysts to have scored a tactical victory in global strategic diplomacy last year by brokering a deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and preventing a U.S. military intervention.

“It's a huge international geostrategic win for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Russia is on equal footing now as a power in the Middle East."
Still, Katz said Russia knows it limits.

“While Russia takes advantage whenever the U.S. has a disagreement with an Arab country, I am not sure that Russia really wants the U.S. to leave the Middle East because Russia can’t play the same role that the U.S. does.” he said.

While Putin is trying to make a mark strategically in Middle East areas vital to Russia, Bessma Momani, an associate professor of international relations at Waterloo University, said that Putin too hopes to carve himself a personal legacy.
“His drive into the Middle East reflects his own interest to be remembered as the leader who brought back Russian power and a sense of dignity to the Russians who felt it has been lacking since the breakdown of the Soviet Union,” she said.

But while tensions over Ukraine have evoked Cold War memories, Katz said he doubts there would be a return to a cold war scenario between Russia and the U.S. in the Middle East.

“Unlike the old days when the Soviet Union used to give arms to Arab allies whether they paid or not, Putin is seeking profit from arms sales and to increase Russian exports and Russian investment in oil companies in the region,” Katz said.

Russia has worked to regain oil contracts in Iraq and Russia’s Lukoil Company has won a number of large oil contracts. In 2012, Moscow signed a $4 billion dollar arms deal with Iraq and 17 percent of Russian arms sales in recent years went to the United Arab Emirates.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 27 percent of Russian arms exports between 2008 and 2012 went to the Middle East and North Africa.

Thirteen percent of that went to Syria where Russia maintains a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.

But Russia’s ties to Syria are also causing some regional strain.
 
Russian relations with Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab Gulf States have worsened since the onset of the Arab Spring in January 2011.
 
And Russia’s support of Iran and Tehran’s stance over its controversial nuclear program is making some Middle East leaders nervous, analysts say.
 
“Saudis and Qataris are very unhappy with Russia for its support of Assad’s regime and the Gulf countries have doubts about Russian’s intentions backing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” analyst Katz said.

Experts believe that Russian involvement in Crimea will distract Moscow’s drive to gain influence in the Middle East and that could open a window of opportunity for the U.S.

“The Obama Administration should be more inclined to listen to the Saudis and the Qataris and all parties who are arguing in favor of doing more for the Syrian opposition to change facts on the ground.” Katz said.
 
But Russia too could be viewed by Arab states as a form of balancing out U.S. interests and policies in the Middle East that have drawn criticism in the Arab world.
 
“The more interference the U.S. brings into the region, the more it helps Putin’s claim that the U.S. is trying to take over the Middle East,” Momani said.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

Border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared their stories More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Riverboy21 from: victoria falls zimbabwe
April 13, 2014 9:00 PM
well done russia, time the drunk usa congress chilled out and smoked a joint. relax usa..no more wars remember.

by: Anonymous
April 13, 2014 3:17 AM
bashar al assad is a serious criminal , anyone who does business with assad should be held accountable as an accomplice. That goes for Putin too.

by: jason from: Salt Lake City
April 12, 2014 6:54 PM
Putin is more than likely Gog, from the land of Magog. -Ezekiel 38-39.
In Response

by: Eric from: New Jersey
April 12, 2014 9:55 PM
Bush thought the same thing about Saddam. You apocalyptic religious loons need to stay out of politics and far away from the big red button.

Putin wants his regional influence and Europe isn't interested in stopping him. This middle east is descending into the 9th level of hell and no one there wants peace. The Americas shouldn't let the conflicts of the Old World consume the entire planet.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
April 12, 2014 9:13 AM
It's a continuation of the cold the war, that's how the US and its Western allies see it. Russia went to sleep after what it termed end of the cold war without understanding that it was the beginning of another era. Happenings around the globe tend to reawaken this reality to Russia and I believe it will not be about to lose sight of it in the nearest future. Right now it is prepared to retake its rightful place in the comity of nations and diplomacy granted that the US continues to make some tactical and diplomatic mistakes that warrant a reappraisal of its relations with allies in the region. Russia's position is helped by its choice of a seasoned diplomat in Sergei Lavrov as well as its strategic ability to stick with its allies no matter the situation as proved in Iran and Syria, as against USA's dealing with allies in Libya and Egypt. Again, the Middle Easterners should also be weighing USA and Western involvement in the mob action system of changing governments in the region otherwise termed the Arab Spring. While it seems its memory was to go away, recent events in Ukraine and Syria currently in a civil war reawaken what may be viewed as dangerous incursion into the affairs in the sovereign nations to forcibly democratize or recolonize the region. That may push the countries to recognize and align with either Russia or China instead of USA or its Western allies.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs