Turkey has been sitting on two chairs, doing geopolitical business with Russia and calling on the United States on a case-by-case basis when interests happen to converge. Now the United States is giving Turkey a taste of its own medicine, and applying its own version of transactionalism.
Biden’s task in the Middle East is to reduce U.S. involvement without allowing Russia to take advantage of the resulting vacuum.
The impending reappraisal of U.S. policy on the Middle East can’t definitively be described as good or bad for Russia. In some respects, it will create hurdles for Moscow, but new opportunities may also arise.
At some level, Russia’s approach to the war in Libya seems successful. Yet Russia can only achieve so much without a clear idea of what its interests in Libya are and what the country is good for beyond a demonstration of the influence Moscow has gained by intervening militarily in Syria—possibilities that are shrinking as the United States turns its attention anew to the country’s years-long war.
If the relationship between Russia and Turkey is a marriage of convenience, then right now the two sides are staying in it purely for the sake of the children: i.e., the political investments that Putin and Erdogan have made in developing bilateral relations when not everyone approved.
Having declared themselves mediators in the civil war in Libya, Russia and Turkey will try to replicate the model of cooperation and mutual accommodation they developed in Syria.
If Syria becomes the setting for a clash between Washington and Tehran, this could be a major problem for Moscow. Until now—and not without Soleimani’s help—Moscow had always managed to find a compromise with the pro-Iran forces in Syria. It’s not clear how the situation will develop now.
Russia is back and here to stay. Others had better accept it and learn to deal with it — without undue expectations, but also without inordinate fear.
Considering the prospects for trade, Washington shouldn’t yet be concerned by the growth of Russian influence in the Gulf. It’s obvious, however, that Arab countries are being increasingly proactive in diversifying their connections. Moscow is simply making use of this to gain economic and political advantages.
Carnegie Moscow Center’s Director Dmitri Trenin and Rethinking Russia discussed his new book “What Is Russia Up To in the Middle East?”, Moscow’s role and place in the region, the future of Syria and the Islamic State as well as Russia’s Syria collaboration with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S.