Putin’s “chess” – Russia’s role in the Middle East and North Africa

Paraskinio – issue 602, p. 46, Nov. 4, 2017

Nine months after Donald Trump took over as the leader of the White House, investigator Robert Mueller began to publish his first research on the influence of Moscow in the recent US presidential election. This information indicates the direct and indirect contact of Trump consultants with various Russian personalities. They also show Russia’s role in the publication of  Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Although research is still in its infancy, it appears that Moscow played a secret role in Trump’s rise in the US presidency. However, Russia’s new international role did not begin from Washington. A clear increase in its global influence preceded.

Russia has always been a major player in the Middle East and North Africa, but its role has been secondary to the presence of the American strike force. The Russian presence was confined to some countries that were not friendly to the US side, and this role was limited within the scope of military cooperation and arms trade. Syria headed the countries that co-operated with Russia under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad, who gave the green light in the early 1970s to create a Russian military base on the coast of Tartus. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Libyan President Gaddafi also had good relations with Russia. At the beginning of this century, the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein, while during the last Arab spring, NATO overturned Gaddafi. Thus, Moscow lost all its allies to the Arab countries, with the exception of the son of Assad in Syria. However, during the second term of Obama’s office, due to his indirect influence strategy and exit from the conflicts that followed, the Russian leadership found the opportunity to redeploy its presence in the region.


Russia supported the Assad regime in all possible and impossible areas. It vetoed seven resolutions to condemn the regime over the last six years of the Syrian revolution, protecting it internationally. The value of military contracts for arms and ammunition signed under the Assad regime is estimated at more than 30 billion dollars. Also, the Russian media machine played an important role in re-floating Assad by fabricating news against the Syrian armed opposition in an effort to show that what is happening in Syria is not a rebellion against a dictator but a war on terror. Politically, the Russian government has put a lot of  pressure on the international forces to stop their support for the Syrian opposition, achieving much. On 30 September 2015, Moscow announced its direct military intervention in the Syrian crisis, deploying more than 125 military aircraft and 5.000 soldiers on Syria. Over time, Moscow has created more than ten military bases that have spread over most of Syrian territory. The idea of ​​the overthrow of Assad was transformed into a dream, and Russia has prevented the international community from circumventing its interests. Astana’s talks, organized by Moscow, made the Geneva meetings as secondary in terms of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Arabian Gulf

Recognizing Russia’s growing role in Syria, the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, began to redraw their relationship with her. The historic visit of King Salman to Moscow was a clear international message that the uni-polar situation that prevailed at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new one ended. The military, economic and investment agreements between Moscow and the Gulf states have been broadened, giving it a new impetus to continue the strategy of fait accompli and influence in the region, as well as an important way out from the deterioration of its economy that has been affected by Western economic sanctions. Russia’s indirect role in Yemen has further emphasized its existence and that the countries in the region need to work more closely with it. Finally, Russia’s role in the nuclear agreement with Iran has prompted Tehran to increase its co-operation with Moscow opposing the US administration.

North Africa

The terrorist attack at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, was a major turning point for the US presence there. This operation, which is still being investigated with the perpetrators remaining unknown, was the main reason for the withdrawal of US presence in Libya’s during Obama administration. This opened the door for Moscow’s indirect military engagement through the military support of General Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, as well as direct support through the creation of two Russian military bases on its territory. Russian intervention was not limited to Libya, but it was extended to other northern African countries led by Sisi’s Egypt, who is not internationally acceptable, especially by the West who sees it as a leader who took power with a military coup. This western orientation pushed Sisi to open up more to Moscow, as the new emerging power in the region.

The growing Russian role, especially in the Arab region, is not due to Moscow’s military or economic development but is the result of the weakness of the US administration over the last seven years. It is regrettable that this role is based on the support of dictators who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, as the Assad regime in Syria, the Iranian regime supporting many terrorist organizations, and the Sisi regime, which is responsible for many human rights violations in Egypt. Moscow has not only interrupted indirect support, but has been involved in a war against the Syrian people, the cost of which is rising every day.

Will the fate of Moscow in Syria be the same with its fate in Afghanistan?