11 january 2017
In 2016 the world has witnessed the deterioration of the crisis in several Middle Eastern states, Russia's expansion and affirmation in the region, increased number of its regional partners. What trends will develop in 2017, Vitaly Naumkin, President of Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, discussed in the interview with www.valdaiclub.com.
Main trend in 2016 was certainly the deterioration of the crisis in several Middle Eastern states, especially in those that are considered "failed" states. We can talk about the continuation of the Syrian crisis deepening, while, however, there are some signs toward the settlement.
The situation in Libya worsened, the chaos became even more destructive and prospects for stabilization are virtually invisible. In Iraq relations between the central power and the Kurdish autonomy are strained.
The Yemeni conflict aggravated. There were signals to the parties that it is possible to find some mutually acceptable solution, but it did not happen. In this conflict we have seen a very high level of violence, and it inflicted and continues to inflict a serious blow to the financial and economic position of Saudi Arabia, who spends a lot of resources to conduct military operations against the rebels in Yemen.
South Sudan is also considered a state which is included in the Middle East conflict zone. Thus, the number of countries, covered by the crisis, continues to grow.
By the end of the year appeared a tendency of the chaos spread. The wave of refugees, which seemed to be diminished a little, still threatens the security and continues to be a huge challenge, especially for the European Union. No one wants to return home, and the past year did not find any solution to this problem.
Despite the beginning of the operation for the liberation of Mosul, ISIS retains its potential, and the Iraqi army, supported by the US and its coalition partners, failed to get an "easy walk".
The threat of terrorism is not eradicated. The potential of the radical movement remains quite high, and very serious efforts of global and regional players are required to join forces in the fight against this evil. In 2016, this did not happen.
It is obvious, that after the presidential elections the level of influence of the United States in the Middle East considerably decreased. The upcoming departure of the present US administration weakens the possibilities and potential of that country, and we can not say that the United States now is a major player in the region.
Russia in the region
An important trend in 2016 is that Russia has managed to expand significantly the circle of its partners in the Middle East. We can note the high level of cooperation of Russia with Egypt, Israel, new partners in the Gulf, such as Bahrain, some progress in relations with Qatar, cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the energy sector, particularly in oil production, and, of course, the normalization of relations with Turkey, including the beginning of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara on the Syrian crisis, which is completely new and unexpected trend. In fact, by the end of the year, Turkey has replaced the United States as a Russian partner on the Syrian crisis settlement. A new Russia - Turkey – Iran triangle was formed.
Moreover, 2016 was a year of serious military victories. In particular, these are victories of the Syrian army with the support of Russian aerospace forces, including the liberation of Aleppo. In the world they are regarded as Russia's political victories.
Moreover, 2016 was a year of serious military victories, which are not final yet. In particular, these are victories of the Syrian government with the support of Russia. In the world they are regarded as Russia's political victories.
It is worth noting the increased levels of coordination between Russia and its partners in Syria, in particular with Iran, which, however, does not exclude differences in the objectives and visions of the situation in the region.
Results of the year 2016 can be summed up only after the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, as relations with the United States and the nature of the forthcoming administration's policy will largely determine what happens in the Middle East.
Contradictions between the Western and the Islamic worlds and the relative increase of xenophobic attitudes will continue, and it will poison the system of regional relations not only in the Middle East, but also in the rest of the Islamic world.
Vitaly Naumkin, “Middle East-2016,” Russian International Affairs Council, 11 January 2017, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=8561
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