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Middle East 2018 Witnesses Russia outmaneuvering US.

Paper No. 6379                          Dated 21-May-2018
By Dr Subhash Kapila
The Middle East historically has been geopolitically turbulent but the United States stayed predominant. In 2018, Middle East sands have shifted wherein perceptionaly Russia seems to
have geopolitically outmanoeuvred the United States in terms of predominance.
 
Conceding the above as a given, the United States in relation to the Middle East is at strategic crossroads. Its options range from letting Russia also have a sphere of influence in the
Northern Tier of the Middle East and with the United States being content to remain confined to the Gulf Region or moving to the other end of the spectrum of contesting Russian
embedment in the region at every step. The latter would be conflictual for which the United States would need NATO Allies ‘Out of NATO Area Operations’ support.
 
In my assessment the perceived geopolitical rise of Russia in the Middle East emerges from a resurgent Russia strongly embedding itself in the Middle East’s most naturally endowed
power attributes, and that is Iran. This commenced early on in the last decade. While the United States had a comparatively monochromatic self-defeating policy fixation of
isolation of Iran, the Russians moved in opposite directions for geopolitical gains.
 
In 2018, United States energy dependence on the Middle East stands greatly reduced and energy resources are not the prime determinant of United States policy formulations. Russia rich in oil and natural gas reserves has never been dependent on Middle East resources.
 
The Middle East however in 2018 is witnessing an intense struggle for predominance between Russia and the United States chiefly based on the region’s geostrategic importance.
This arises from the Middle East’s geographical contiguity to Europe, Russia, the Caucasus region, Afghanistan, and South Asia. Its maritime littorals touch the Indian Ocean, the
Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Above all, the Middle East is crucial in US strategic calculus in relation to the security of Israel which in 2018 emerges as
the only American outpost in the Middle East, of long standing and a reliable US ally.
 
In the aftermath of disintegration of the Former Soviet Union and in 1991 and the decade of the 1990s which was the ‘Unipolar Moment’ for the United States, one saw the virtual
geopolitical exit from the Middle East. 
 
The return of Russia in Middle East as a geopolitical power of consequence was spearheaded by Russian President Putin who spearheaded Russian resurgence from around 2000 onwards.
 
In 2018, nearly two decades since then, the Middle East geopolitical landscape presents the spectacle of United States predominance declining and a consequent upward swing of 
Middle East regional powers pivoting towards Russia prompted by geopolitical hedging strategies.
 
The United States in 2018 can be said to be only strongly embedded in Israel, Jordan, Qatar, and UAE and in recent times under President Trump in Saudi Arabia. The United
States is at odds with the Middle East’s most predominant regional power Iran, uneasy and edgy with its NATO Ally Turkey. United States has an uncertain hold on Iraq and
embroiled in the Syrian Civil War in which it aided and sided against President Assad’ regime. 
 
In this Century, the United States has been constantly involved in two military interventions in Iraq, brinkmanship with Iran, in Syrian Civil War conflict and geopolitically
battling Russian intrusiveness in the Middle East. Resurgent Russia outmanoeuvred the United States by focussing on deeply embedding itself in Iran in the last decade
wherein for the last three decades plus the United States was intensely trying to isolate Iran through all sorts of measures including UN economic sanctions. Russia continues to be a
factor to reckon with in relation to Iran. Added to this is the Russian sizeable military involvement in Syria which is a strong Iranian ally. Russia has been the mainstay of the
continuance of the Assad regime despite repeated onslaughts for regime change in the last six years by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and US-backed Syrian rebels.
 
Broadly, Russia has a strong presence in the Northern Tier of the Middle East. With Turkey’s edgy relations with the United States for quite some time what is evident that for all practical
purposes the United States hold on the Middle East in the Northern Tier is virtually absent.
 
Russia has encroached on the United States traditional turfs in Saudi Arabia and Turkey more notably, which in the past have been staunch US allies. In Syria, the Russians have
established a military naval presence giving it an extended presence in East Mediterranean.
 
More notably, Russia emerged as the main military force to attack ISIS presence in Syria facilitating its liquidation by Kurdish and Iraqi forces in Iraq. Perceptionaly, therefore, in 2018 Russia emerges as enjoying an edge over the United States in the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East. Russia also signalled its readiness for military interventions in the Middle East with deployment and use in combat of Russian Land Forces, Russian Air Force and the Russian Navy in Syria and against the ISIS.
 
Therefore in 2018 one has to ponder as to how the United States which till middle of the last decade held unquestioned sway over the entire Middle East has slipped into a position of
Russia being an equivalent power in the geopolitical power- play in the Middle East?
 
In my assessment, which I repeat once again, is that United States policy formulations on the Middle East ever since the Iranian Revolution have been monochromatic. United States
obsessive fixations for decades to isolate and chastise Iran have resulted in distorted US policy perspectives on the Middle East. This has allowed the Middle East’s other regional
pretenders for eminence to influence US policies to the detriment of US national security interests. Russia has scored where the United States failed. Russia embedded itself strongly in Iran which happens to be the Middle East’s most naturally predominant power.
 
In Conclusion, the United States policy makers on the Middle East have to grapple with the vexing question whether the United States remains supremely confident that it can retain
its traditional predominance in the Middle East with its existing policy template of continued isolation of Iran or proceed to restructure the basic premises of its Middle East
policy formulations more synchronised with 2018 geopolitical realities?
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