DUBAI — Following a decade of “near-absence” in the Middle East, Russia is once again asserting itself as it looks to sell arms to former Soviet-era clients while breaking into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market.
“Moscow’s policies again have become markedly more active,” said Dimitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “During his presidency, Vladimir Putin made trips to the region and paid a visit to Tehran, the first one since Stalin’s wartime allied conference journey.
“However, Russia’s policies are not yet embedded within some overall strategy and are largely driven by a set of pragmatic considerations. Russia’s principal objectives are to advance its economic interests and to counter threats to Russia’s national security,” Trenin wrote in a paper for the Washington-based Century Foundation.
Yuri Baramin, a UAE-based Russian political and military analyst, said the Russian approach to the Middle East can be described as a “wait and see approach.”
However, Moscow voiced its protest against the US intervention in Iraq, quietly reacted to the NATO operation in Libya and showed limited support for recent strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, he added.
“The Kremlin’s position, however, has been not to confront the West in the Middle East, even when Russia’s interests are at stake, because it knows from the past that in the long run, military involvement from outside has little chance for success.”
Baramin, however, insisted that it is wrong to say that Russia is playing it safe, because its alliances in the region suggest otherwise.
“Moscow siding with risky partners, such as Syria and Iran, means that Russia is thinking over a long-term period. Russia’s unequivocal support for [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad is dictated by the presence of its naval support facility in Tartus, which in the event of Assad staying in power would likely be transformed into a larger naval base.
“Today, the Russian goal in the Middle East is to regain the influence that the USSR once had. While the USA is having uneasy relations with MENA [Middle East and North Africa] countries, Russia is making attempts to capitalize on this fact and fill the vacuum left when the United States leaves,” he said.
According to Baramin, Russia’s influence is dictated by arms trading. Russia’s biggest and most reliable customer, Algeria, has acquired $7.5 billion worth of military hardware from Russia since 2006, including MiG-29 and Su-30 fighters, S-300 rocket systems and T-90 tanks, he said.
Recently, Russia signed deals worth more than $10 billion with Egypt and Iraq for aircraft, rockets and missile systems.
“Within individual countries, Russian influence [rests] almost entirely on its arms sales or military aid to allies in MENA,” Baramin said.
“Moscow’s entry point to the MENA market is through the former Soviet clients, such as Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Jordan,” he said. “In some of them, old Soviet types of hardware are still in active use, while others have replaced them with US equivalents in the ’90s when Russia disappeared from the international arena.”
However successful Russian arms exports are to MENA, the country will not be a dominant player unless it wins over the GCC market — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“This region never was a Soviet client and it was only in recent years that Russia managed to secure a share of the market with its BMP-3 that it sold to Kuwait and the UAE in the ’90s and Pantsir air defense systems to the UAE in the 2000s,” Baramin said. “These were the only major deals that Russia had in the GCC, but they did not transform into continuous cooperation until very recently when Russia and the UAE were reported in talks about selling Russian MiG jets to the Emiratis and about joint production of weapons.”
Full article: Russia Making Major Push Into Mideast Market (C4ISR & Networks)