Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam describes power polarisation
New Power Broker For The Middle East – Since many decades the Middle Eastern region has not lost its centrality in international affairs owing to its strategic location and hybrid nature of regimes trying their best to govern often restive populations of the countries situated in the region.
Since the last seven decades the region has been the cause of international concern that refuses to abate. Currently the region is witnessing a paradigm shift in realigning itself as the countries located there are repositioning themselves with a view to ensure that their interests remain intact and they are allowed to successfully pursue them.
The significant stakeholders of the region, Turks, Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis, and Emiratis continuously look for foreign mediation in their never ending squabbles and till recently America acted as the primary power broker for the Middle East. The reality is gradually dawning on these players in the region that Washington is subjected to political dysfunction with regard to its position in the region. The countries of the regions have evoked divisive political debate in the American establishment that has caused considerable worry in the region.
The ideological tussles within the American legislative and executive branches have rendered governance of bilateral and multilateral relations untenable that in turn has made Middle Eastern leaders nervous about American intentions and the future nature of relations. The situation has compelled the regional countries to look tentatively at the other option, Russia that has recently re-entered the region with gusto.
Russia’s interference in Syria in 2015 surprised Middle Eastern stakeholders as Russia was considered a non-entity in the region for about quarter of a century. The decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to save and buttress the besieged regime of Bashar al-Assad came very suddenly.
New Power Broker For The Middle East
The Russian intervention gave rise to apprehensions about its actual nature as many believed that the Russian resurgence will surely contest American hegemony in the region in a repeat of the Cold War. Others are of the view that Russia is too financially strapped to play decisive role in the region and that the current Russian action there is a bluff.
Probably the skeptics downplaying Russian resurgence in the Middle East have failed to realise the undying Russian pride that suffered a serious setback after the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991. They also ignore the fact that Putin has restored Russia to an eminent position and that it is raging to contest America in the region where it feels US interests are already contested. It would be wrong to asses that Russians have intervened without a strategy based on their renewed staying power.
Moscow showed its strength through a clever alliance with Iran in Syria belying its previous status with a view to assert its presence as a credible alternative to American position in the region. The Russians came with arms sales, economic deals and diplomatic maneuvering proving their countervailing influence. In the process Russia successfully weaned away Turkey and Egypt from American umbrella though it cannot claim to have completely dissociated these countries from American influence.
The most important change in wind was detected when Saudi king visited Russia giving way to an unexpected breakthrough for Russia. The Saudi visit was to create a hedge against American retrenchment and to collaborate about oil pricing. Saudi sojourn to Moscow has paved the way for future inroads in the Gulf States which mostly take cue from Saudi policy.
Russian Interest In The Middle East
Russian renewed interest in the Middle East has seen a remarkable turnaround in relationship patterns as within less than a decade the unquestioned American influence in the region has been successfully countered by Russia. The Russian strategy in the Middle East is to weaken the hold of the West and the best place suited to pursue such a goal is to lessen western influence in the region. It should be noted that Moscow is no more encumbered by its ideological commitments and its policy contests are purely strategic in nature.
The Russians have shown strength in recent years that was not expected of them till recently. They are learning the lessons of countering American influence fast and they are also raising the capability and capacity of their armed forces.
They are prepared to wait for the weakening of American stance in the Middle East and are willing to step in the void. Although their military capabilities are definitely inferior to that of the western alliance particularly the US but they are better motivated and strategically well placed.
However, in the wake of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war the perceptions about the growing role of Russia in the region are now undergoing a fundamental change as the Middle Eastern region is keenly aware that American-led efforts to contain Russia may seriously affect its capability to become a decisive power broker.
Consequently, the region has now started to reassess the situation and the first sign of it was the recent summit in Saudi Arabia headed by American president Biden. The question however remains whether the region is convinced about any future role of America and the answer to it will only be provided by the future course taken by international affairs. The Weekender