How Putin Used the Middle East to Strengthen Russia
While our previous leader laughed at Russia, Putin strengthened his country in any way he could. Russia is now strong enough to challenge the world. We must pray that our country does not fall behind.
From FAI Mission. On February 24th, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To many, this was a shocking development and an unthinkable escalation….
These events in and of themselves show a consistent trend of Putin’s clinging to countries historically under the Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. But in the subsequent years since the annexation of Crimea, Russia has been steadily building power in another region entirely: the Middle East.
But why has Russia turned its sights to the Middle East at a time when American foreign policy has shifted distinctly eastward to China? What are Putin’s ambitions in the region, and how has that fueled the current crisis in Ukraine?
Russian recovery in the wake of the Soviet collapse was slow. Even now, the Russian economy produces a mere 3 percent of the global GDP. In the 2012 presidential debates, it is perhaps understandable that Obama ridiculed Romney for stating that the United State’s number one geopolitical foe was Russia, saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back…the Cold War has been over for twenty years.” When giving a speech later in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, President Obama would also call Russia a mere “regional power” that was “weak.”
The “American moment” from the 90s to the mid-2010s where the United States enjoyed being a lone superpower, fed a complacency that led to a profound underestimation of the once and potentially future Soviet Union. In Putin’s first term in the Russian presidency, strong cooperation marked American-Russian relations. However, when Putin came back for his second round as president, he implemented a different and more assertive Russian foreign policy. Putin did not suffer from the same complacency that his American counterparts did. After victories in Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea, he was ready to test and build new Russian power in the upheaval of the Arab Spring….
THE GREAT SYRIAN SHIFT
While suspecting that regional instability was the result of American machinations, Western de-prioritization of the Middle East left openings for Russian business investments. American investments and interventions often came with human rights and democratic strings attached, but the Russians were not so high-minded. They could offer themselves as alternative business brokers who didn’t make partners jump through ideological hoops like the Americans often did. Not only did this open up a new market for Russian arms sales and energy cooperation, but it also made Russia less dependent on Western markets, lessening the impact of sanctions.
But more than anything, the Russians wanted to present themselves as reliable and perhaps, superior allies compared to Americans. And so, after many years of supporting the Assad family, the Russians joined the Syrian Civil War in 2015 and reversed what might have been a successful overthrow of the regime. The US and the anti-ISIS coalition were already in Syria fighting ISIS, and Israel was fighting Iranian proxy militias. They were forced to open deconfliction channels to avoid dangerous incidents in the skies, lessening Russian isolation on the international level. The Syrian government, which had been fighting a losing war on several fronts, took back control of 70-80 percent of the country, thanks mainly to Russian airpower. Damascus gave Russia two bases in Syria for the next half-century, cementing Russian presence in the region.
Though the war in Syria was rife with human rights abuses and war crimes, Russia’s involvement has been overwhelmingly positive for its global image as a powerful actor. Many on the world stage thought that entering the war in Syria would mean becoming embroiled in yet another endless quagmire on the level of Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, Russia emerged from Syria transformed as a world power to be reckoned with and a new kingmaker in the region.
After Russia’s success in Syria, Moscow looked for new areas for low-cost, high-reward interventions in the Middle East, and Libya fit the bill….
FUEL FOR A NEO-SOVIET UNION
After the relative military success of its Syrian and Libyan interventions, Russia proved to be an ally willing to apply strong power to keep its partner in control. It has successfully brokered many arms and energy deals and postured itself as an attractive alternative to those disaffected by pro-Western forces across the region. It has soldiers fighting in actual theaters of conflict and gaining battle experience. It worked at building partnerships that would insulate it from Western sanctions.
So, after the general chaos that accompanied the global Coronavirus pandemic in the early 2020s, Putin saw the opportunity to finish what he had begun in the 2000s—an expansion of Russian influence and power, the halting and reversing of NATO’s eastward expansion, and ultimately the realization of a Neo-Soviet reabsorption of Ukraine….
If the Russian tactics in Syria are anything to go by, Ukraine is in for a long and painful war. The West would do well to reassess how seriously it takes both its presence and influence (or lack thereof) in the Middle East as well as its estimation of Putin’s expansionist ambitions. By miscalculating the importance of both, we have set the stage for the tragedies we see today both across the Middle East and in Ukraine, and for future devastations across the globe.
Share your prayers for Ukraine in the comments.
(Excerpt from FAI Mission. Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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