A Concert for Russia and the World
During the past decade and a half, the Middle East has got an increasingly important position in international relations. Developments taking place in this region at present have greater geopolitical and economic consequences for the rest of the world than in the Cold War era. This is not primarily due to the destabilizing impulses that keep the region on centre stage in world politics, for the Middle East has long known turbulence and conflict and the security challenges it posed in the past were hardly less significant than today, especially given the emergence of nuclear weapons in the region. Its current critical role is the product of a larger process: the formation of a new world order, a difficult and painful period of overcoming asymmetry that is challenging and destabilizing the balance of power in the world. Today, the region is increasingly influenced by the rivalry between leading global players, which also manifests itself in local conflicts, complicating stabilization efforts even when there are internationally approved plans for resolution.
The Middle East has repeatedly showed how political irresponsibility, coupled with military recklessness, can create chaos, which, contrary to a popular theory, cannot be controlled. The current situation is different in that the context of conflicts required military presence of both Russia and the United States. It can be described as mutual containment, but in the present tense situation, it does not rule out incidents, provocations or the use of force by a party that is not ready to weigh all consequences of such a step.
Despite the dramatisation of the situation in some Middle Eastern countries in the 2010s and unexpected moves made by individual players in 2017, the political, social and economic development of the region fits into the paradigm that was formed in previous years. Regional processes have become more predictable, and analysts and political actors are inclined to believe that the peak of the transformation is over and that the current trends in political, social and economic development will determine the regional picture for years, if not decades, to come. At the same time, changes in the existing paradigm cannot be ruled out, for example, global differences and conflicts, stemming, above all, from the ever-worsening relations between Russia and some Western countries, are projected to rise in the Middle East.
Russia’s Middle East policy, having a special focus on the preservation of statehood and the value of sovereignty, was intended to stop turbulence and unpredictability in this part of the world. However, on the contrary, the region has not only become an arena of rivalry between Russia and the West but has also provided an opportunity to work out new mechanisms and develop new approaches to conflict-resolution and rehabilitation of societies. The implementation of these mechanisms is not mandatory and can be rejected by participants in international relations who disagree with the idea of indivisibility of security and who do not think that many countries in the region are doomed to authoritarian rule for many years to come.
Russia’s involvement in Syria marks a new stage in its domestic politics. This is not just another example of using force near its borders to pursue its interests, but a demonstration of much broader capabilities and a bid for a global role. The military presence in the region has become an important, but not the only, lever of influence, which has allowed Moscow to pursue a multi-vector policy. The military component of Russia’s policy, at times, causes regional and some global forces to view it as a player bidding to replace other influential powers in the Middle East. This view does not reflect the reality. Of course, Russia has demonstrated effectiveness in fighting terrorism and its importance as a political partner. But, to Moscow, it is increasingly obvious that efforts to stabilize the situation, recover the economy, and settle Middle East conflicts cannot, and should not, be unilateral.
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