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2021 | Book

Russia’s Relations with the GCC and Iran

Editor: Nikolay Kozhanov

Publisher: Springer Singapore


About this book

This book offers insight into the motives behind Moscow’s behaviour in the Persian Gulf (with a specific focus on the GCC member states and Iran), considering Russia’s growing role in the Middle East and its desire to protect national interests using a wide range of means. The book explores the drivers and motivations of the Russian foreign policy in the Gulf region, thus, helping the audience to generate informed prognosis about Moscow’s moves in this area over the next years. In contrast to most studies of Russia’s presence in the region, this book considers the Russian involvement in the Gulf from two standpoints – the Russian and foreign. The idea of the book is to take several key problems of Moscow’s presence in the Gulf, each of these to be covered by two authors—Russian and non-Russian scholars, in order to offer the readers alternative visions of Moscow’s policies towards Iran and the GCC countries

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction
During the last five years, Russian relations with the GCC demonstrated a strong tendency for positive development. Even Moscow’s decision to leave the OPEC + agreement and launch a price war with Saudi Arabia in March 2020 was unable to offset those achievements that were reached by the Russian diplomacy in the region.
Nikolay Kozhanov
Chapter 2. New-Old Key Player: What to Expect from Russia’s Growing Role in the Middle East
Despite the increase in Russian activity in the Middle East over the past decade, it remains a second-order priority for Moscow: the US, the West broadly, and China form Russia’s main geostrategic focus. Under President Putin, Russia’s involvement in the Middle East has three primary aims. Firstly, as part of Putin’s opposition to US global strategy, he wants to counter US objectives there when he disagrees with them. Secondly, he seeks to benefit Russia economically through coordination with Middle East energy producers on oil and gas prices, encouraging Gulf sovereign wealth funds to invest in Russia, and selling arms to this conflict prone area. Thirdly, for domestic security reasons, he needs to prevent the region’s turmoil infecting Russia’s Muslim-majority regions. His approach to the region is tactical, rather than strategic.
Ian Parmeter
Chapter 3. What’s Driving Russia’s Return to the Middle East?
Russia’s return to the Middle East was motivated by a number of cultural, historical, political, and economic factors that have been driving its policy toward the region for centuries. Moscow’s policies have been formulated as a response to global transformations and to a period of high uncertainty. The practice of regime change, terrorists’ activities, and the increasing frequency of military interventions all pose new challenges to Russia. The Middle East in the 2000-s presented Moscow with a window of opportunity, when it came to Syria and managed to strengthen or to establish ties with the main regional actors. Moscow has become an important political and economic player and has demonstrated its ability to be a game changer.
Irina Zvyagelskaya
Chapter 4. Russian Foreign Policy in the Gulf: A Quest for Regional Partnerships and Opportunities
As Russia is reestablishing itself as one of the major external players in the Middle East, it is looking for reliable and capable partners among the regional states. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies are considered by the Kremlin strategists to be the key power-brokers in the Arab world, thus, it is necessary to develop working relations with them. This approach is reflected in the official 2018 Concept of the Russian Foreign Policy which lists the continuation of the strategic dialogue with the GCC as one of the priorities. From the Russian perspective, the gradual American withdrawal from the Middle East creates a window of opportunity for expanding Moscow’s influence in the region, because the Gulf monarchies will be forced to diversify their foreign policy.
Nikolay Surkov
Chapter 5. Russia and the Gulf States: Between West and East
Western states have enjoyed a near monopoly of external military, political and economic patronage of Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states. The United States has been the dominant actor but the former imperial powers, the UK and France, have retained important strategic and economic assets in the region. The Soviet Union, and then the Russian Federation in the 1990s and 2000s, was either excluded or had minimal influence. During the 2010s, Russia made significant breakthroughs in developing closer economic, political and security relations with the Gulf states. This has raised concerns in the West, particularly when seen in the context of a much increased economic presence of China in the region. This chapter will first address what the causes are for this shift in the strategic orientation of the Gulf states. This will be viewed from two axes: whether this is to be understood as a result of structural shifts in the global balance of power or whether it is more due to differing leaderships and personalities. The second axis is that of the role of ideas and ideology as against strictly material economic and strategic factors. The key question will be whether the Gulf region is shifting towards a more ‘penetrated system’, where multiple external powers vie for power and influence, or whether the continued Western dominance can be expected to be durable and long-lasting.
Roland Dannreuther
Chapter 6. Trade, Investment and Politics: Prospects for Russian Economic Cooperation with the Gulf
Russia’s economic relations with the Gulf countries are thin. The fundamental problem is that Russia’s economic offer to the region lacks appeal: the sides’ economic structures are non-complementary (both are oriented toward the extraction and export of raw materials, primarily hydrocarbons); and Russia’s manufacturing sector is largely uncompetitive. Meanwhile, Russia is not perceived to be an attractive destination for would-be Gulf investors. For this state of affairs to change, it will be necessary for the Russian authorities to embrace far-reaching domestic economic reform: to increase the productivity and competitiveness of its manufacturing industries; and to improve the investment climate in Russia. Neither is on the cards: the Kremlin has effectively ruled out reform as politically and socially destabilizing. Consequently, Russia will have to rely disproportionately on geopolitical maneuvering to defend and promote its interests in the Gulf. Although Russia’s diplomatic prowess should never be underestimated, its weak economic relationships with the region will limit its influence there.   
Duncan Allan
Chapter 7. Going Beyond Politics: Russian Energy Interests in the Gulf Region
Even as Russia’s pro-governmental media keeps offering an optimistic look on this country’s global political role and, in case of the Gulf Region, a huge involvement of Russia in the economy of Arab nations and Iran, the actual presence of Russian companies in the area is not as significant as such reports imply. Russian energy companies, including such state-controlled giants as Gazprom or Rosneft, cannot boast a large footprint in the Gulf Region. Their counterparts in the Gulf Region are also wary of getting involved in Russian projects. This chapter is dedicated to identification of the main players in the energy cooperation between Russia and Gulf nations and a scope of this cooperation. It also explains the rationale behind the attitude of these players vis-à-vis new opportunities for an increase of exchanging capital, experience, labor, and technologies in the energy sector.
Mikhail Krutikhin
Chapter 8. Russian-Iranian Relations: Impact on Persian Gulf Interests
Russia’s political maneuverings with Iran have been inconsistent, wavering between cooperation and conflict. This incongruity has left the debate over Iran’s role in Russia’s regional calculus widely contested. However, as substantiated in this chapter, Moscow and Tehran’s strategic differences do not impinge on their partnership. This chapter posits, that despite inconsistency in the partnership, Russian-Iranian alignment is likely to be an enduring feature of the Middle Eastern political landscape. Their different approaches to interacting with the key actors on the Arabian Peninsula demonstrates the adaptability and dynamism of this partnership. We argue that while these two states often collide in different conflict zones, and in their engagements with regional state actors, they share a similar narrative of the international order, which cements their partnerships.
Ghoncheh Tazmini
Chapter 9. Russia-GCC Relations and the Future of Syria: Political Process and Prospects for the Economic Reconstruction
The “normative business plan” of Syrian reconstruction (implying the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, political dialogue, adoption of a new constitution, and free elections leading to a regime change followed by the provision to the new regime of the funds that are necessary for a full-scale Syrian reconstruction on the part of the West and the Gulf) is not viable anymore, because the regime believes that it has won the civil war militarily and is not ready to make any substantial concessions that would satisfy the West. Russia is not ready to apply any serious energy to persuade the regime to make such concessions. Russia makes rather limited investments in the Syrian reconstruction. However, it is clear that Russian-sponsored reconstruction projects are not sufficient at all to secure a real reconstruction of Syria, and it is clear that the Russian investments in the Syrian reconstruction will remain rather limited. Theoretically speaking, some Gulf countries might provide substantial investments to support the Syrian reconstruction. These are Saudi Arabia and, especially, the UAE. These countries seem to be inclined to provide such investments to counteract the influence in Syria of the Turkish-Qatari alliance, on the one hand, and the Iranian influence, on the other. However, a possible Russia-Gulf cooperation in the Syrian reconstruction appears to be effectively blocked by the Caesar Act, as both Emiratis and Saudis do not appear to be ready to risk the US sanctions.
Anton Mardasov, Andrey Korotayev
Chapter 10. Russian Presence in Syria: Gulf States Views
Russia’s initial diplomatic support to Assad was motivated by the need to preserve its international status after NATO’s perceived betrayal in Libya, but Moscow involvement grew as it identified the Syrian conflict as an opportunity to redefine its role as a power broker in the Middle East. The Russian military intervention in September 2015 came in a crucial time when the Syrian regime was on the verge of collapsing, its air forces were not only decisive in preventing the Syrian opposition groups from overthrowing Assad, but it was also instrumental in altering the landscape of the regional stance vis-à-vis regime change in the war-torn country. Russia has mainly benefited from its position as an outsider to the region to place itself above regional competition and rivalries. Using a mix of diplomacy and military force, Russia portrayed itself as a seemingly more powerful and reliable substitute to the unresponsive and retreating USA. Frustrated with Washington indifference toward their geopolitical and security aims, US traditional allies in the MENA region sought Moscow instead to appease their concerns in Syria. Nevertheless, Moscow does not wish to solely take over the challenging job of stabilizing Syria. The Russian mission in Syria is best described as the establishment of a strong foothold in the Middle East at minimum cost. To achieve this goal, the Russian leadership is open to accommodate some of regional powers demands in Syria but only in exchange of burden sharing in owning the Syrian problem while recognizing Russia new role in the MENA. Moscow’s predisposition to engage others in Syria political and security new order is thus further encouraging the region’s capitals to recalibrate their policies toward Assad. More than ever, Russia seems to be the force to negotiate with in Syria. This paper attempts to evaluate Russia ability to pursue its Middle East grand strategy through its facilitator role in ending the Syrian conflict. It also looks at Moscow different maneuvers in appeasing Israel, Turkey, and GCC concerns in Syria while maintaining a working partnership with Iran and seeking tactical arrangements with the USA. The paper also studies the evolution of regional responses to the Russian intervention in Syria and its impact on broader foreign policy issues. Finally, it measures Moscow capacity to navigate through regional rivalries and the risk of getting caught in the complex net of conflicting interests in the country.
Sinan Hatahet
Chapter 11. Russia’s Policy Toward the War in Yemen
Yemen continues to occupy a peripheral place in Russian foreign policy. There are three reasons for this: the lack of serious economic interest for Russia, the illusory possibilities of strengthening the military presence there, and also the recognition of the dominant role of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni conflict, relations with which began to improve again after the accession to the throne of King Salman in 2015. On the other hand, the deepening of the split within the Arab Coalition in Yemen, primarily between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, forces the Russian authorities not only to balance between the Yemeni actors, but already makes it part of the “Yemeni triangle” along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Russian involvement in the Yemeni crisis has its own limits, which are due to both domestic factors and the specifics of relations with the Gulf countries.
Leonid Issaev
Chapter 12. Broker, Partner, or Troublemaker: Russian Involvement in Regional Conflicts and GCC Interests
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that once actively participated in the Cold War (1946-91) against the Soviet Union now appears for Russia as a prospective area for intervention, business, and future collaboration. With its established “smart power” in the Gulf region, the Kremlin distinguishes itself from all other intervenors in the region’s conflicts and in its ability to engage with all parties regardless of where they stand, offering them both neutral intervention and air defence systems S-400s: a neutral intervention that engages with all parties without taking sides to support peace negotiation and S-400s to support their arms race when they decide to escalate. This chapter focuses on examining the extent to which Russia’s smart power has been able to transform its relationship with the countries of the Gulf region and build collaborations that meet the interests of both sides. Additionally, the chapter will discuss how GCC countries see Russia’s capacities to be a broker in Gulf conflicts (e.g. with Iran) and with other regional ones like that of Syria and Libya.
Ibrahim Fraihat, Yegor Lodygin
13. Correction to: Trade, Investment and Politics: Prospects for Russian Economic Cooperation with the Gulf
Duncan Allan
Russia’s Relations with the GCC and Iran
Nikolay Kozhanov
Copyright Year
Springer Singapore
Electronic ISBN
Print ISBN

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