Are we giving Russia the attention it deserves?

On the evening of the first day of Eid [Al-Adha] I sat down to relax after a long day of travelling. I picked up the remote control to follow the latest world news. I tuned in to the English-speaking Russia Today television channel, waiting for what I thought was a commercial— accompanied by soft and dreamy music which seemed somewhat romantic to my ears—to end, only to discover that I was the one who was dreaming. Rather than a commercial, it became apparent that this was a disclaimer that Russia Today was undergoing “scheduled maintenance” between 8.00 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following day.

I recovered from the surprise, only to awake to another one. This was strange as I have never heard of any TV channel suspending broadcast in order to carry out so-called “scheduled maintenance.” It appears that the festive mood of Eid prevailed that day, and I thought to myself: “Perhaps the channel’s staff in Moscow are taking the day off to celebrate Eid!”

All eyes on Russia

Well, let’s leave this lighthearted story behind and become more serious. Indeed, the issue of Russia today—I mean the country not the TV channel—is a noteworthy one which should be given the degree of attention it deserves from think tanks in the Arab world. Although the Arab decision-making circles are granting Russia the attention it deserves, it remains necessary to seek the expertise of scholars belonging to the different schools of strategic thought. Without in-depth analysis, understanding remains superficial. Logically speaking, the last thing that any politician wants is for their decisions to be described as superficial or random.

Russia’s role in international politics began to improve since the era of Boris Yeltsin, remained active during the term of Dmitry Mevedev, and can no longer be overlooked at this time, during Vladimir Putin’s second presidency.

Bakir Oweida

It is clear that Putin’s Russia has made its presence felt in the world’s political arena. The developments in the Arab world during 2011 and 2012 flung open the doors for Russia’s strong return to the region in 2013. Is it possible to imagine that the implementation of any resolution in the Middle Eastern political arena can pass without the Kremlin giving a response that exceeds words? I do not think so. By this, I do not just mean the resolutions drafted in the U.N. Security Council, as this is taken for granted, but also the ones put forward by regional powers.

The surprise of Russia defusing the crisis surrounding possible U.S. strikes on Syria by proposing the destruction of Damascus’s chemical arsenal proves this. This step proved that Russia’s “Czar,” who is today confronting his international rivals as part of a new Cold War, did not hesitate to push for the de-clawing of his Syrian ally. This took place regardless of whether these chemical weapons were used in consultation with Russia—which is unlikely—or not.

Russia’s role in international politics began to improve since the era of Boris Yeltsin, remained active during the term of Dmitry Mevedev, and can no longer be overlooked at this time, during Vladimir Putin’s second presidency. However despite all this, it is not realistic to have exaggerated expectations of Russia’s role. It can be noted that some Arab voices speak about what is expected from Russia’s decision today, specifically regarding the Arab situation, as if Leonid Brezhnev were still in power. In other words, some bid on the possibility of Moscow going to any length regardless of its interests only to satisfy its Arab friends. No, this is a thing of the past. It is just as important that we don’t underestimate Russia’s role, as it is that we don’t overestimate it and make unrealistic predictions.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 19, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com
 

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