Putin’s Expanded Reach in the Middle East: The Political and Diplomatic Significance

By Saira Nawaz Abbasi.

Vladimir Putin’s surprise stopover in Syria while en route to Egypt is significant to achieve diplomatic as well as political objectives amid upcoming election in Russian Federation. The visit was made soon after he announced his candidacy for the presidential poll in March 2018.  This is the first visit of Russian President since 2000. Upon his arrival at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia province, Mr. President declared Russian victory in Syria and announced a partial pullout of troops. However, he also made Russian presence permanent in the naval station of Tartus and Hmeimim air base. The troops were also glorified for helping the Syrian regime against terrorists (ISIS) and rebel groups. This is the third time that such an announcement of military drawdown has been made for which many are skeptical about this announcement, particularly Washington. But the timing of such an announcement of victory and drawdown was crucial in scoring political and diplomatic points in his favor.

“Putin had proved that his decision of Syrian intervention was correct which has not only brought the country out of international isolation”

The Syrian conflict has provided the opportunity for Mr. Putin to assert himself as a leader in the Middle Eastern region to conduct diplomacy and providing military assistance, an alternate to American influence. Back in 2015 when Russia intervened in Syria, Washington predicted it to be a quagmire for Moscow. However Syrian intervention has brought the Kremlin out of international isolation faced after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Despite the aversion of Western leaders they had to engage themselves with Russia to find solution to the Syrian problem. The foremost objective of securing a key ally in the region and preventing it to fall into the hands of US and its allies has been achieved so far.

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Diplomatically it is important for Moscow to not just limit its role in Syria. Putin’s recent visit of Syria, Egypt and Turkey came at a time when the United States made a decision of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which was widely condemned by the Arab states. Putin has successfully exhibit himself as a dependable partner to the Middle Eastern countries committed to stand by the allies, while American decision sparked outrage among the Arab countries. Moscow also criticized the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and termed it as destabilizing factor in an already turbulent region which might finish the prospects of peace process between Israel and Palestine and call to settle the matter through talks in line with UN resolutions. During the visit Putin agreed to provide assistance to Egypt to build $30 billion nuclear power plant and resumption of tourist flights between two countries. In the third-leg of the regional tour he met his Turkish counterpart for the seventh time since the assassination of Russian ambassador in Turkey. During the meeting the progress was made in selling S-400 air missile defense system to Turkey.

” from the recent trends of Putin’s popularity in domestic politics it is quite obvious that he will remain in power for the next six years”

Putin’s regional tour was also important for his political gains in the forthcoming elections. Although recent surveys have shown his definite success in the election, however Putin’s supporters want an exuberant turnout in his favor. Declaring victory, announcing the drawdown of troops and peaceful settlement of Syrian civil war exhibits the powerful role of him as a leader, who has taken Russia back on the forefront of international decision making. He had proved that his decision of Syrian intervention was correct which has not only brought the country out of international isolation but also successfully projected its military and diplomatic power.

Consequently, under Putin Russia has emerged as a key stakeholder in the Middle East and strike deals with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt etc. This all would help in burnish the Putin’s image and stoke national pride in voters in the presidential election of 2018. After all he is the man who re-establishes Russia as a global power after its collapse in 1991. At the backdrop of the incoherent US policy in the region, Russia is using the events in Middle East to rebuild its image as a great power and it seems to be everywhere in the region. Due to the recent trends of Putin’s popularity in domestic politics it is quite obvious that he will remain in power for the next six years which clearly indicates the Russian strategy of prestige, trade and stability towards the region will continue.

About Author.

The writer is Senior Lecturer at Bahria University, Islamabad and a Ph.D candidate at SPIR, Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad.

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