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Russia’s Power Projection in the Gulf Region, A Perception or a Reality?


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.

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