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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs