Amid Yemen war, can Russia play nice with all sides?
Can Russia afford to rock the boat with its apparent push for peace in Yemen?
The escalation of the crisis in Yemen was predictable and inevitable - as long as the inevitability of the outbreak of violence was obvious long before the current historical moment.
The complexities of Yemen, from local cultural differences, to the bigger problems of terrorism, in the backyard of Saudi Arabia, combined with its important strategic location for world trade, all factor in the country’s volatile situation and potential to erupt and fall into complete collapse.
What is frightening, is that what we witness now, most likely, is just the beginning of what we should expect to come next - some kind of a prelude to the catastrophe. And Yemeni civil war is not the worst scenario.
Saudi Arabia’s reaction following recent developments inside Yemen was understandable.
To prevent the Iran-backed Houthis from gaining control over the country was a matter of strategic importance and of national interest to Saudi Arabia. To prevent the Iran-backed Houthis from gaining control over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait was a matter of strategic importance and interest for most regional and global powers.
Yemen was unlucky to become the battlefield of Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence.
The master of trying to play nice with many countries in the region, Russia, has called on all sides to stop the violence, arguing that the situation can be settled only through national dialogue. The belief that the conflict should be settled through political means is shared by all sides along with the U.N. Secretary General. However the path to this political solution is apparently seen in different ways.
An active participant of the six-party nuclear talks, a good friend of Iran, reliable ally of Israel (and, what’s more, of the Palestinians as well), a great partner of Egypt and a seeker for better relations with the Gulf states, Russia has done several rather curious things during the last few days on the Yemeni track.
Putin had a telephone call with Rouhani, in which the two leaders discussed the development of the Yemeni crisis, and according to some sources Putin was trying to persuade the Iranian leader not to meddle in the ongoing crisis. Then Putin had a telephone call with Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has joined the Coalition, as hatred, or at least, strong distrust towards Iran is what definitely unites the Jewish state with most Arab countries.
Then Putin sent an address to those at the Arab League Summit. Among other issues, has touched indirectly on the Yemeni conflict, calling for its peaceful resolution. The media quote the following words from Putin’s letter: “We support the Arabs’ aspirations for a prosperous future and for the resolution of all the problems the Arab world faces through peaceful means, without any external interference.”
The reaction of Riyadh voiced by Prince Saud Al-Faisal was widely shared by the media. He said: “Putin speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems.” Although he pointed at Putin’s “hypocrisy” in terms of the Syrian conflict, where Russia plays not the least role at all, it was almost a strong but still very diplomatic message saying that the Arab countries can decide themselves what to do without external advice and recommendations. If they needed any, they would ask for it.
Russia is concerned with the ongoing situation in Yemen, as almost 2,000 Russian citizens live there. But the diplomatic corps still stay on the ground – they have not yet evacuated, but will be in a state of high emergency. But the reasons for Russian concerns are deeper than it could seem.
Russia’s deep concerns
There is no wonder why Russia is so anxious about the situation in Yemen. The two countries had historically strong and friendly relations dating back from the era of the Soviet Union. At that time the Soviet Union supported the country and provided Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen with aid. And even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the united Yemen and the Russian Federation had very stable friendly relations.
So Russia in some sense feels responsibility for the fate of Yemen and its people, and tries to alleviate the crisis with all possible means it has at its disposal, however limited.
Russia has deep concerns of losing its historical and traditional ally in the region. And another reason to concern Russia - is a threat of the uncontrolled deterioration of the situation with the Sunni-Shia standoff that would push the region towards a complete collapse with disastrous consequences for the world.
The Yemeni crisis is not a crisis for a week or one month. It could become a conflict if not for decades, possibly for years. And we can hardly imagine the damage it will cause to the region’s and world stability and security. But this disaster was inevitable.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme