The withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria in early October in advance of Turkish military action against Kurdish militants has unexpectedly propelled Moscow to become the key power broker in the region.
It provides Russia with an opportunity to consolidate its foothold in the Levant, from where it can increase its influence across the Middle East. It also allows Moscow to increase pressure on Ankara as part of its long-term objective of destabilising its NATO adversaries.
In the Gulf meanwhile, state visits to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in October by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin resulted in major agreements in the energy and technology sectors, strengthening economic and political relations with regional oil producers. And on 24 October, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi met with Putin in Socchi, Russia, where they co-hosted the Russia Africa Summit.
The interests of Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Moscow are further aligned in Libya, where they support the opposition to the Turkey-backed government in Tripoli.
Russia, Saudi and Opec
Russia’s economic links with the Gulf states have been deepened substantially over the past three years by the agreement between Opec and non-Opec oil producers, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to control oil supplies to stabilise prices.
The question now for Moscow is how to continue to boost its position in the region at the expense of the US and its allies.
This is no easy task. While Washington has betrayed its allies in Syria, Moscow supports governments in Tehran and Damascus, both of which are despised by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
With the ongoing political quagmire in Syria, Russia is more likely to focus on energy and defence deals in the Gulf than on trying to juggle competing political adversaries.
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