The rise of a new Russian Tsar Vladimir Putin has accelerated Moscow’s return to the Middle East playing a role perhaps more forceful than it did as the Soviet Union. The new Russian foreign policy, no longer tainted by Soviet anti-monarchical ideology, has enabled Moscow to get closer to nearly all GCC states, that traditionally strong US allies. Moscow has managed to remain relatively neutral amid the increasing internal tensions in the Gulf region while Washington has failed.
The improvement of the relations has covered all sectors, economic, political, energy and even cultural. Russian – Iranian relations have benefited both sides strategically. Moscow sees Tehran as a hegemonic regional power capable of harassing and annoying Washington in across the region. In turn, Tehran relies on Moscow in the international arena, including the UN Security Council, to minimize US and European attempts to tame Tehran’s growing power.
For the GCC, the most interesting development has been the ability of Moscow and Riyadh, the largest OPEC and non-OPEC oil exporters to collaborate and control the price of oil through the OPEC+ agreement. Despite some early missteps, this has proven rewarding for the economies of both countries and all Gulf states.
Interestingly, Moscow never approached the GCC states collectively; it prefers to maintain distinct bilateral relations with each of the Arab Gulf states. Moscow has stayed flexible in picking sides in different intra-GCC disputes. For instance, the UAE’s position about Russia’s intervention in Syria was closer to Moscow than that of Doha and Riyadh who opposed Russian support to Assad. In 2018, Qatar has reportedly approached Moscow on buying the Russia S400 Air Defense System to deter threats from other GCC states despite this small Gulf state’s role as the host of one of the largest US airbases outside the US. Russia has made no secret of its willingness to sell weapons to fill part of the void created by decreasing US interest in the region, a willingness that has elicited interest from Iraq, Kuwait, and the UAE.
Is Russia interested in or working to replace the U.S. in the Gulf region? What are Moscow priorities in the Gulf? How is Russia balancing its relations between Tehran and Riyadh? How does Moscow play out the different frictions and tensions in the Gulf? How do Riyadh, Doha, Tehran, and Abu Dhabi view Moscow’s policies in the MENA and particularly the Gulf? Is Russia a promising economic ally for the GCC and Iraq? Is Moscow a reliable partner for Tehran?
Featured Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Samuel Ramani, Nicole Grajewski, and Alexey Khlebnikov.
Ambassador Patrick Theros (Moderator)
Strategic Advisor, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017.
Doctoral Researcher, University of Oxford; Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Samuel Ramani is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations. His primary areas of specialisation are post-1991 Russian foreign policy and the dynamics of protracted conflicts in the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Al-Monitor, the Washington Post, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington and the Middle East Institute, where he frequently writes about Yemen and the Gulf. He is also a commentator for major broadcast media outlets, such as CNN, France 24, the BBC World Service, and Al Jazeera English. Samuel has briefed the U.S. Department of State, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, France’s Ministry of Defence and the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre on security issues pertaining to Russia, North Korea, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.
Doctoral Candidate, University of Oxford
Nicole Grajewski is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford in the Department of Politics and International Relations, where her research examines Russian foreign policy towards Iran in Central Asia and the Middle East. She received a MPhil in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in International Affairs, Security Policy and Middle East Studies from George Washington University. Nicole currently holds an Associate Research Fellowship at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek and will begin a Predoctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard’s Belfer Center in the fall.
Strategic Risk Consultant & MENA Expert, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC); Research Fellow, Eurasian Strategies Research Unit
Alexey Khlebnikov works as a consultant to various NGOs, think tanks and businesses in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and the US. During his Master’s and Ph.D. studies, he has made several research trips working and studying in Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Hungary. He has been published on international relations topics in particular on the Middle East in academic journals and media sources in Russia, Europe, U.S., and the Middle East. He received his Master’s degree in Global Public Policy from the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota as an Edmund S. Muskie Scholar and both Bachelor’s and Master’s in Middle East studies from Lobachevsky State University in Nizhni Novgorod. His PhD thesis is devoted to the reasons why “Arab Uprising” failed in Egypt and Syria.