Solving Middle East’s myriad problems needs tough-minded approach


To be sure, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the chaotic regime change there indirectly created the conditions that redounded to the advantage of armed groups and, ultimately, the governments of Iran, Turkey, and Russia. But the foreign-policy contradictions and domestic exigencies that prompted the Obama administration to accelerate Washington’s disengagement compounded the errors of the occupation and created a power vacuum that quickly attracted the usual suspects.

Against this backdrop, it is tempting to conclude that the Middle East is condemned by geopolitical circumstances and unreconstructed dictatorships to be stuck forever with the status quo. But with 2018 coming to a close, banishing pessimism and embracing positive thinking must necessarily be high on the list of the New Year’s resolutions. What cannot be denied, though, is that without a tough-minded, unsentimental assessment of the issues and actors perpetuating the region’s instability, stagnation, and conflicts, all hopes of success for new ideas in the coming year will remain just that.


Russia Hopes UN To Adopt Project On WMD-Free Zone In Middle East – Official

Russia hopes that the UN General Assembly will adopt the Arab states-sponsored project to establish a zone in the middle East that is free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Russia‘s Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said on Monday.

“If the draft decision is hopefully adopted and the conference is held in 2019, this will significantly defuse the situation at the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) parties in 2020,” Ulyanov said in a video link-up at the Rossiya Segodnya news agency.

Ulyanov also noted that while the initiative of the Arab countries was well prepared, the countries that had abstained from voting on the issue in the General Assembly First Committee might wrongly interpret it, given that their follow-up statements explaining their decision contradicted the text of the draft decision.


Can Russia, China cooperate on the Middle East?


Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East and North Africa, traveled to Beijing for talks on Dec. 5-6 with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Le Yucheng and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Chen Xiaodong, whose area of responsibility includes West Asia and North Africa.

The focus of the discussions was on the current situations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the Gulf, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Following the talks, the parties stated Moscow and Beijing share approaches to addressing the crises in the Middle East via politico-diplomatic tools “in accordance with fundamental principles of the international law and the UN Charter.” Most interestingly, Russian and Chinese diplomats agreed to maintain “dynamic bilateral dialogue on the Middle East issues that are in the mutual interest.”

Russia’s Syria campaign made Moscow one of the prime pacesetters in the Middle East in the security domain. China became the largest investor in the region in 2016, outpacing the United States and the United Arab Emirates. President Putin and President Xi Jinping occasionally showcase their strong ties. Even if the relationship between the two countries is profoundly more nuanced, the sour Sino-American relations, and arguably the worst US-Russia confrontation in history, makes Moscow and Beijing appear to be part of the “global powers axis of resistance” to the United States. Yet Russian-Chinese dealings over the Middle East seldom make news. This makes latest contacts between Russian and Chinese diplomats all the more interesting.

Russia and the Middle East


Russia’s increasing presence is being felt across the Middle East. Not just in Syria, where it has been fighting alongside the Assad regime for almost three years, but also with business, arms and oil deals and numerous diplomatic trips to and from Moscow. Why is Putin so keen to fill the void left by an ever less-interested US?

Why Russia Agreed To Additional Production Cuts

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Moscow didn’t have the resources anymore to compete with Washington in the Middle East. However, a couple of years after 2015 and its participation in the Syrian civil war on the side of government forces, Russia has become a formidable power in the Middle East again. Moscow not only has good relations with its historic allies, but also maintains good working relations with Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Besides political gains, Russian-Saudi cooperation has positively impacted mutual investments and access to energy resources. While most westerners didn’t participate in Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative due to the Khashoggi affair, Russian investors flocked to Riyadh. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih has said that his country could buy 30 percent of Novatek’s next big LNG project Arctic-2. The project is estimated to cost $21 billion with a planned start-up date of the first line in 2022-2023.

Of all its partners in the Middle East, Russia could gain most from long-term cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Although the countries are rivals on the energy market, cooperation has benefitted them both in recent times. Politically there is less room for cooperation as the Kremlin has close relations with Iran and Turkey, and supports the Assad regime. However, this could also be a mitigating factor as Moscow could act as a broker. Despite the pitfalls, cooperation between the countries has a bright future which can be seen in mutual investment initiatives and good personal relations between President Putin and MBS.


As Opec’s power wanes, Saudis tie up with Russia
The Statesman

The truth is, OPEC is in the midst of a major crisis made more evident by Qatar’s announcement that it would be leaving OPEC, partly to protest Saudi dominance over the group.

My research has taken me through the history of oil, particularly the relationship between oil revenues, economic development and the geopolitical balance of power in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe that rather than the arbiter of global energy, OPEC has often been held back by division, disagreement and divergent interests.

This weakness helps explain why OPEC has struggled to move markets in effective ways since the 2014 collapse of oil prices. The latest production cuts, which were bigger than expected but followed considerable acrimony, are further proof that OPEC’s disunity remains intact.

To gain leverage, Saudi Arabia has partnered with Russia, a major oil exporter that doesn’t belong to OPEC, forming what some analysts have called OPEC+. The two countries now coordinate their production cuts to stabilize prices.

Not all OPEC members are happy about this arrangement, including Qatar, a small Persian Gulf state. It has been at odds with Saudi Arabia since 2017. In December 2018, Qatar announced it would be leaving OPEC to concentrate on liquefied natural gas exports.

Russian Mapping Service Reveals Secretive Military Bases Across the Middle East

The National Interest Online

A Russian satellite-based mapping company may have accidentally revealed the locations of at least two sensitive NATO facilities in the Middle East in what can only be described as the OPSEC version of the  Streisand effect .

According to a new report from the Federation of American Scientists  published Monday, Russia’s Yandex Map “agreed to selectively blur out specific sites beyond recognition” in Israel and Turkey.

But instead of simply downgrading the imagery, Yandex completely removed specific installations from its map, a move that “had the unintended effect of revealing the location and exact perimeter of every significant military facility within both countries” for a total of 300 discrete installations from barracks to airfields, as FAS’ Matt Korda  wrote.

Those include two specific NATO facilities: the home of Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, and the contours of the strategically-critical Incirlik Air Base which, as Korda  notes, hosts more of the U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs that have seen ongoing testing  by the U.S. Air Force than any other NATO facility.