During the era of the Soviet Union, Arab relations with Moscow were positive most of the time and this was due to their matching stances in several affairs, mainly Palestine’s. The collapse of the Soviet empire led to chaos in the region, which is geographically far from it and one camp, i.e. the western camp, dominated instead.
This vacuum brought about chaos in Somalia and South Sudan and later in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries. This is in addition to the emergence of terrorism and the deterioration of the security situation in stable countries such as in Pakistan and Ethiopia.
Regional countries fear competition between the two camps over their passages and markets as this creates tensions and wars. They are also aware that the absence of international balance in the region is more dangerous because it leads to vacuum which prevents organizing and framing conflicts.
When Russia recovered, it went back to playing a balancing role in our region and other areas in the world. We are currently witnessing the process of forming a new reality and it seems Syria is the major field for a Russian military parade.
I have written about the Russian “mystery” at the beginning of its intervention in Syria. Truth be told, Moscow’s stance is still mysterious and it’s unjustified for many in the region. Moscow does not have any rivalries with any Arab country and its relations with Arab countries – including those close to Washington such as Egypt, Jordan and Gulf countries – are all good.
There are many indications to suggest that Moscow is willing to reconcile with the countries around Syria. It can also seek approval of the Americans who seem to be ready to engage moreAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Trade between Russia and Arab states is also good and it is at its best in the history of relations during half a century. Cooperation is ongoing in sensitive fields. Arrangements for oil production and pricing it are happening for the first time. There is also cooperation in combating terrorism. This cannot be said about Arab relations with the Iranian regime as relations between them are tense and bad on all levels.
I think that unlike Tehran, Moscow can change its position on Syria and trigger an end to the crisis via a formula that satisfies the moderate opposition. Before we imagine such a scenario, there must be convincing answers regarding the Kremlin’s enthusiasm and insistence to support the Syrian regime and, even more, Iran.
It can be explained via the perspective of American-Russian competition – which has come back to life – where Moscow’s stance is an expansion of its conflicts with the West in the world, particularly in areas that are close to it such as Ukraine.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and the Russians consider it as their most important state, and the West had stolen it during the Orange Revolution – which resembled the Arab Spring revolutions. Around three years after chaotic developments erupted in Arab countries, protests erupted in Kiev.
Despite the huge difference between what’s happening in Ukraine and Syria, this explains Russia’s oversensitivity towards the revolution against the regime in Syria.
Zones of influence
The conflict between Russia and the West is still on in a number of old zones of influence. So is the Kremlin’s support of the Damascus regime part of raising the extent of the conflict with the US? The Americans did not care much about the Syrian conflict and have only focused on pursuing ISIS.
The Russians’ desire to restrain the Americans in their zones of influence is understandable and justified as it comes as a response to the West’s activity in West Russia and East Europe. However, Syria cannot be considered as a field for a proxy war between the two camps.
There are many indications to suggest that Moscow is willing to reconcile with the countries around Syria and reach a solution. It can also seek approval of the Americans who seem to be ready to engage more than before in the Syrian conflict. The Americans will not repeat sole attack on Idlib, which came in response to the use of chemical weapons.
Without a political solution, they will probably support the moderate Syrian opposition to pressure the Assad regime and the Iranians to accept a moderate political solution.
This development will complicate the situation further and prolong the duration of the civil war – unless the Russians agree to alter their current position and thus become the makers of real peace in Syria.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on April 11, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.