The decade of Moscow’s influence in the Middle East is coming to an end.
The decline of Russia’s influence in the Middle East, caused by the invasion of Ukraine, briefly increased after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. However, it is now becoming clear that its ten-year status as an arbiter in the region is coming to an end, writes Foreign Policy.
The publication notes that since 2012, Russia has strengthened its position in the region, carried out military intervention in Syria and thus became the center of regional diplomacy from Ankara to Riyadh and Cairo.
“Moscow used its new presence in the region to position itself as an alternative to the United States, using dissatisfaction with Washington to strengthen its influence… Russian policy was pragmatic and even cynical, not tied to ideology or values such as democracy. Russia was able to simultaneously improve relations with Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It managed to attract the Turkish government and Kurdish groups in Syria, deftly avoiding the criticism that Ankara hurled at Washington,” the publication writes.
However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 marked the beginning of the gradual weakening of the Kremlin’s influence in the Middle East
First, Russia’s unprovoked attack tarnished its international standing, making it a less attractive alternative to confrontation with Washington.
Moscow’s influence on its relations with the key states of the region was also changed. “Now Russia relies on Turkey as a transshipment channel to circumvent Western sanctions. Russian planes now fly through Istanbul and Dubai to avoid European airspace restrictions. Moscow buys Iranian-made armed drones and even builds a drone factory in Russia Iranian license,” the article notes.
Finally, Moscow weakened its military presence in the Middle East, reducing part of its forces and equipment to support military operations in Ukraine.
At the same time, the brutal attack by Hamas on Israel will probably mark the point of no return for Russia’s weakening influence in the Middle East. Relations between Russia and Israel were already strained over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Putin’s response to the Gaza crisis is likely to have exacerbated the situation. At the same time, it is noted that, although Putin has probably damaged his personal ties with Netanyahu, bilateral relations are likely to deteriorate even more if the latter leaves his post as a result of the crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Moscow’s past importance as a mediator between Palestinian groups is also likely to disappear. Even if Hamas manages to survive Israel’s ongoing ground invasion of Gaza, intra-Palestinian reconciliation will not be a priority of the Middle East peace process in the foreseeable future, notes Foreign Policy.
A war between Israel and Hamas is also likely to make it difficult for Russia to manage regional rivalry, especially given the warming of its relations with Tehran. And if it has to choose, the Kremlin will have to decide whether Iranian weapons are more important for Russia, or whether maintaining influence over Israel is a priority in order to dissuade it from supplying weapons to Ukraine.
“Ultimately, the crisis caused by a large-scale attack by Hamas on Israel may help determine the future of the Middle East. However, Moscow is unlikely to play a significant role in its formation – if at all, and the future trajectory of the development of the Middle East will most likely be determined by the crisis in Gaza without any significant participation from Moscow,” the publication notes.
Russia and the war in Israel
Earlier, the mass media stated that Russia was making carefully-checked criticisms of both sides in the war between Israel and Hamas. At the same time, this conflict also creates an opportunity for Moscow to increase its role as a global influential mediator and challenge Western demands to isolate it because of the war in Ukraine.
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