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The Russians Aren’t Coming (II)

The Post reports that Russia [1] 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 [2]:

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 [3] last [4] two weeks [5]. 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.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "The Russians Aren’t Coming (II)"

#1 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 1, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

Right. Russia is small potatoes and will remain so for a very long time regardless of any politician’s ambition. The only “vacuum” in the middle east is the one sucking away our blood and treasure.

#2 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 1, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

Other than the growing Muslim population of Russia someday getting control of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles — a real concern the way demographic trends are going — Russia is less significant than many seem to think.

Russia’s population decline, while recently interrupted, has been on a long-term downward path and will likely resume that path on average in upcoming years. Moreover, the Muslim areas of Russia, both in Russia proper and in the Caucasus, are generally growing more than the ethnic-Russian non-Muslim areas. Russia, like the USA, is going to have severe problems at home — including, unfortunately, race-based riots and violence — and will be less able to interfere on a substantial basis abroad.

#3 Comment By a spencer On October 1, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

Is the Post trying to insinuate that Arabs should reject Russian overtures in favor of ours, especially considering recent history?

#4 Comment By James Canning On October 1, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

Bravo, Daniel. I scarcely could believe I was actually seeing a claim, from Washington Post, that Russia was “trying to fill a vacuum in Iraq”! Caused by departure of US forces! Astounding rubbish.

The US should have pulled all troops out of Iraq years earlier.

#5 Comment By James Canning On October 1, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

@Radical – – Let’s not forget sensible Russian positions (re: ME). One is that Israel needs to get out of the Wsst Bank. Another is that Israel has no need for nukes and should get rid of them.

#6 Comment By VikingLS On October 1, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

Radical Russia is not a democracy and has no qualms about racism or brutal police tactics. Furthermore one didn’t see a lot of Islamic solidarity regard the Chechens. There’s a far greater likelihood that the Russians will put in place radical nationalists determined to “save” Russia from the Muslims than they are to tolerate, let alone fall to, a radical Islamist movement.

#7 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 1, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

Hi James, always enjoy your comments. Good point about Russia generally favoring more balanced, sensible positions re: Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than “our” government.

I can’t agree, though, that Israel should give up its nukes. As tiny as Israel’s land mass and ground forces are, an Israel without nukes would eventually be susceptible to overrun by its vastly more numerous Muslim neighbors. I;m not a fan of Israel, and don’t like our government’s policy being influenced so much by that tiny country and its lobby here. But let’s be fair, they have a right to defend themselves, and they wouldn’t be able to do so permanently without nukes. The Muslim enemies who surround Israel could take twenty casualties for each of Israel’s casualties and still prevail. And unfortunately, “prevail” for Muslims re: Israel will surely mean “exterminate.”

Let’s stop taking Israel’s side, yes, but let’s not urge them to disarm either. It would be suicide for them.