What Is Russia Up To In The Middle East? by Dmitri Trenin

The Blurb On The Back:

The eyes of the world are on the Middle East.  Today more than ever, this deeply troubled region is the center of power games between major global players vying or international influence.  Absent from this scene for the past quarter century, Russia is now back with gusto.  Yet its motivations, decision-making processes, and strategic objectives remain hard to pin down.

So just what is Russia up to in the Middle East?  In this hard-hitting essay, leading analyst of Russian affairs Dmitri Trenin cuts through the hyperbole to offer a clear and nuanced analysis of Russia’s involvement in the Middle East and its regional and global ramifications.  Russia, he argues, cannot and will not supplant the United States as the leading external power in the region, but its actions are accelerating changes that will fundamentally reshape the international system in the next two decades. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Dmitri Trenin is the Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and in this timely and fascinating book that provides a much-needed counterpoint to Western media thought pieces that made me rethink my assumptions about Russian international policy, he examines Russia’s history and interests in the Middle East to assess its impact in the region and its wider strategy on the global stage.

Trenin divides the book into five chapters:

– HISTORY, which canters through the main points of note from the Russian Empire and Soviet Union’s policy and activities within the Middle East, which I found fascinating – particularly the parts that focus on the Cold War, which revealed a lot of information that I wasn’t aware of in terms of Soviet activities, the positioning they undertook against US interests and how Middle East nations played the two off against each other.

– WAR examines the most recent Russian mission in Syria (particularly timely as Putin announced the mission over in December 2017) and in particular the methods deployed and results achieved.  It especially made me think about it in terms of the air and naval capabilities and the implications that could have for Russian operations going forward and I was interested in the diplomatic operations that went on at the same time, with Russia effectively outplaying the US in terms of coalition building among the other Middle East players.

– DIPLOMACY focuses on Russian’s diplomacy activities within the region (drawing and developing in part on the information in WAR) by using case studies on its role and aims in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Israel and Syria, Iran and Israel, Iran and Turkey, Turkey and the Kurds, Shia-Sunni, Iran and the Gulf States, the Gulf States and Iran, Egypt under Mubarak, Morisi and Sissi, and Libya.  Although the case studies are brief Trenin gives a real insight into Russia’s strategic objectives drawing back in the historical elements to give context, although I would have liked some further reading on the subject.

– TRADE was perhaps my favourite chapter in the book as it looks at Russia’s economic interests in the region in the context of the post-2014 sanctions regime and although I knew about Russia’s arms industry, I was surprised by the energy connections (having always thought of Russia as a separate, independent market that didn’t really engage with the Middle East producers).

The concluding chapter pulls together the preceding elements and sets them against Russia’s relationship with Europe and the US and although I wanted to know more about the Great Eurasia concept, there was more than enough here to rethink what I thought I knew about the region and as such I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the region.

WHAT IS RUSSIA UP TO IN THE MIDDLE EAST? was released in the United Kingdom on 27th October 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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