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Timur Makhmutov

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Expert

Ruslan Mamedov

MSc in International Relations, Program Coordinator (MENA) at the Russian International Affairs Councill

The multiplicity of crises in West Asia and North Africa requires an integrated approach to their possible resolution. One possible solution could be the creation of a collective regional security system that would address the challenges and threats facing the countries in the region.

As mentioned in a piece published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in 2017, the issue of determining the area and geographical boundaries of the regional security system continues to be relevant. The authors of the document thought it would be appropriate to limit the study to the Arab Mashreq region, given that it includes the nexus of a major global political crisis, namely Syria. For the purposes of this study, we will discuss the Arab Mashreq as comprising the Levant States (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) and Iraq.

Current trends in the (primarily English-speaking) analytical environment erode the significance and role of Russia and the former USSR in the security of the Arab Mashreq region. Back in the 20th century, the Soviet Union, as one of the two key global security actors, was an integral to the regional security system in West Asia. The fledgling USSR was one of the first states to recognize a number of nations in the region. The USSR supported the desire of these countries to achieve independence from the colonial regimes, mainly from the British Empire and France. Suffce it to mention the “Appeal of the Council of People’s Commissars to the Muslims of Russia and the East” on dated November 20, 1917.

As for the neighbours of the Arab Mashreq, history oers us various examples. Soviet specialists used their channels to provide specic material assistance for the foundation of the independent Turkish Republic headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 1926, the USSR was the rst country to recognize the independence of Saudi Arabia under its founder Abdulaziz Al Saud, supplying the country – one of the poorest in the Arab world at the time – with staple commodities, including fuel. Soviet Russia was also among the rst nations to recognize Israel. These and other examples invariably turned out to be failu res for the USSR’s foreign policy. And there were various reasons for this, including the opposition of the pro-American camp, inghting among the region’s elites, and the ever diminishing capability of the Soviet Union to sustain its satellite states. And there was also the Soviet messianism, which periodically got in the way. That said, one thing remained unchanged – the scope and level of contacts, including defence cooperation, the training of highly qualied specialists across the region, and assisting countries in their industrialisation eorts. All this eventually led the USSR to dominate regional security.

The Arab elites relied heavily on Moscow for their security. One example was the Suez Crisis of 1956 (or the Tripartite Aggression of France, the United Kingdom and Israel against Egypt, historically one of the most important countries in the Arab world, after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power and nationalized the Suez Canal) that was prevented from further escalation thanks in no small part to the tough stance of the USSR. It is worth mentioning, however, that the United States did nothing to support its allies, because it wanted to strengthen its own position in the region. Itself an erstwhile colony, the United States was viewed positively in the region. The example of the Tripartite Aggression is indicative, because similar plots are being concocted as we speak. In April 2018, in violation of international law, the United States, the United Kingdom and France mounted an attack (or a new tripartite aggression) on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, something that was never proved.

Despite the devastation and the need to restore the USSR after World War II, Moscow managed in the second half of the 20th century to work an economic miracle that resulted, among other things, in the accumulation of experience in the industrialization of the economy. The USSR shared its experience with any country that would turn to it for support. Soviet specialists were instrumental in building major factories and infrastructure facilities in Egypt (for example, the Aswan Dam in 1971, the Helwan Metallurgical Combine in 1973 and a number of other major enterprises), Syria (the Euphrates Hydro Complex in 1978, etc.), Iraq (the thermal and hydroelectric power plants in Nasiriyah, Najiba and Dukan, Baghdad–Basra petrochemical pipeline built in the 1980s, etc.). Thus, the USSR played a critical role in shaping the system of international relations and in the regional security system.

The weakening and collapse of the USSR eectively decided the fate of the region. Moscow was unable to maintain the same level of contacts with the countries of Western Asia. The elites of the Arab countries had to restructure and survive without support from Moscow. The United States, the only external security guarantor left, was no longer eager to participate in the Arab “game” of deriving benets by oscillating between Washington and Moscow. The Americans came to rely on several principles and approaches in the region, the key one involving attempts to “change (undesirable) regimes.” This is how the “inuence vacuum” was lled after the collapse of the USSR.

The Arab Mashreq had to bear the brunt of U.S. politics in the region. The strategic interests of the United States in the 1990s and 2000s remained unchanged: it wanted to ensure the security of logistics and infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, which continued to be an important resource, and protect Israel as its key partner in the region. This meant a permanent weakening of the states that posed a threat to the aforementioned U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean. In forming its Middle Eastern policy, the United States was historically led by a strong pro-Israeli lobby. After Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), and the US-allied Gulf Cooperation Council came into being on May 25, 1981, the United States came to perceive Iran, Iraq and Syria as the key threats in this sense.

The multiplicity of crises in West Asia and North Africa requires an integrated approach to their possible resolution. One possible solution could be the creation of a collective regional security system that would address the challenges and threats facing the countries in the region.

As mentioned in a piece published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in 2017, the issue of determining the area and geographical boundaries of the regional security system continues to be relevant. The authors of the document thought it would be appropriate to limit the study to the Arab Mashreq region, given that it includes the nexus of a major global political crisis, namely Syria. For the purposes of this study, we will discuss the Arab Mashreq as comprising the Levant States (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) and Iraq.

Current trends in the (primarily English-speaking) analytical environment erode the significance and role of Russia and the former USSR in the security of the Arab Mashreq region. Back in the 20th century, the Soviet Union, as one of the two key global security actors, was an integral to the regional security system in West Asia. The fledgling USSR was one of the first states to recognize a number of nations in the region. The USSR supported the desire of these countries to achieve independence from the colonial regimes, mainly from the British Empire and France. Suffce it to mention the “Appeal of the Council of People’s Commissars to the Muslims of Russia and the East” on dated November 20, 1917.

As for the neighbours of the Arab Mashreq, history oers us various examples. Soviet specialists used their channels to provide specic material assistance for the foundation of the independent Turkish Republic headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 1926, the USSR was the rst country to recognize the independence of Saudi Arabia under its founder Abdulaziz Al Saud, supplying the country – one of the poorest in the Arab world at the time – with staple commodities, including fuel. Soviet Russia was also among the rst nations to recognize Israel. These and other examples invariably turned out to be failu res for the USSR’s foreign policy. And there were various reasons for this, including the opposition of the pro-American camp, inghting among the region’s elites, and the ever diminishing capability of the Soviet Union to sustain its satellite states. And there was also the Soviet messianism, which periodically got in the way. That said, one thing remained unchanged – the scope and level of contacts, including defence cooperation, the training of highly qualied specialists across the region, and assisting countries in their industrialisation eorts. All this eventually led the USSR to dominate regional security.

The Arab elites relied heavily on Moscow for their security. One example was the Suez Crisis of 1956 (or the Tripartite Aggression of France, the United Kingdom and Israel against Egypt, historically one of the most important countries in the Arab world, after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power and nationalized the Suez Canal) that was prevented from further escalation thanks in no small part to the tough stance of the USSR. It is worth mentioning, however, that the United States did nothing to support its allies, because it wanted to strengthen its own position in the region. Itself an erstwhile colony, the United States was viewed positively in the region. The example of the Tripartite Aggression is indicative, because similar plots are being concocted as we speak. In April 2018, in violation of international law, the United States, the United Kingdom and France mounted an attack (or a new tripartite aggression) on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, something that was never proved.

Despite the devastation and the need to restore the USSR after World War II, Moscow managed in the second half of the 20th century to work an economic miracle that resulted, among other things, in the accumulation of experience in the industrialization of the economy. The USSR shared its experience with any country that would turn to it for support. Soviet specialists were instrumental in building major factories and infrastructure facilities in Egypt (for example, the Aswan Dam in 1971, the Helwan Metallurgical Combine in 1973 and a number of other major enterprises), Syria (the Euphrates Hydro Complex in 1978, etc.), Iraq (the thermal and hydroelectric power plants in Nasiriyah, Najiba and Dukan, Baghdad–Basra petrochemical pipeline built in the 1980s, etc.). Thus, the USSR played a critical role in shaping the system of international relations and in the regional security system.

The weakening and collapse of the USSR eectively decided the fate of the region. Moscow was unable to maintain the same level of contacts with the countries of Western Asia. The elites of the Arab countries had to restructure and survive without support from Moscow. The United States, the only external security guarantor left, was no longer eager to participate in the Arab “game” of deriving benets by oscillating between Washington and Moscow. The Americans came to rely on several principles and approaches in the region, the key one involving attempts to “change (undesirable) regimes.” This is how the “inuence vacuum” was lled after the collapse of the USSR.

The Arab Mashreq had to bear the brunt of U.S. politics in the region. The strategic interests of the United States in the 1990s and 2000s remained unchanged: it wanted to ensure the security of logistics and infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, which continued to be an important resource, and protect Israel as its key partner in the region. This meant a permanent weakening of the states that posed a threat to the aforementioned U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean. In forming its Middle Eastern policy, the United States was historically led by a strong pro-Israeli lobby. After Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), and the US-allied Gulf Cooperation Council came into being on May 25, 1981, the United States came to perceive Iran, Iraq and Syria as the key threats in this sense.

Russia and the Arab Mashreq: The Post-Conflict Period in Syria, 3.8 Mb

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