The Post reports that Russia is moving fill a “vacuum” in the Middle East:
Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union affirmed the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East, a resurgent Russia is seeking ways large and small to fill the vacuum left by the departure of American troops from Iraq and the toppling of U.S. allies in the Arab Spring revolts.
That sounds like a significant development, but the rest of the article doesn’t really back up these claims. What has Russia been doing? Other than brokering the deal with Syria, the article tells us that it has hosted Iraq’s Maliki in Moscow twice, sold Iraq some weapons, received the new Egyptian foreign minister on his first foreign trip outside the region, and sent a tourism delegation to Cairo. The Russian weapons deal with Iraq is much smaller than the one between the U.S. and Iraq, but Baghdad sought Russian weapons because the U.S. has been slow in delivering the weapons. That’s it. This is the extent of Russia’s so-called “vacuum”-filling in the region. Taken together, these examples show that Russia isn’t having much success in increasing its influence in the region.
This is why it makes no sense to think of Russia as a peer or equal of the U.S. in this region or in any other outside the former Soviet Union. Dan Drezner elaborates:
And the Middle East, where Russia secured it’s latest diplomatic triumph? Yes, let’s think about it. Vladimir Putin managed to persuade Barack Obama to not bomb a country he didn’t really want to bomb anyway to preserve a norm that is kinda but not really vital to the U.S. national interest. And this success managed to — for now — salvage a policy situation that had been trending badly for Russia.
Exactly. This is the point I’ve been making for the last two weeks. Russia’s position in the region has been getting slowly but steadily worse, and it has now managed to arrest some of that decline, but that is a far cry from the expansive regional influence that is now being attributed to it.
Buried near the end of the Post article, we finally find this:
Indeed, although many U.S. allies in the Middle East are frustrated with the Obama administration’s policies, it is unlikely that any would seriously contemplate abandoning Washington in favor of Moscow, if only because the military imbalance between the two countries is so great, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
It’s possible that some clients could feign interest in Russian patronage in order to frighten easily-panicked American hawks into providing those clients with more support, but an accurate assessment of Russia’s position in the region ought to keep the U.S. from falling for this.