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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech 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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs