[MEMBERS] Russia’s Strategic Objectives in the Middle East and North Africa

[wcm_nonmember]In this report… (878 words)

  • Russia is a traditional partner in the Middle East
  • Putin is forcing Trump’s hand in Syria and elsewhere
  • Putin is invested in Russian presence in the Middle East
  • And more…

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House Foreign Affairs Committee

Subcommittee on the Middle East & North Africa

“Russia’s Strategic Objectives in the Middle East and North Africa”

15 June 2017

 

(Analyst Comment: Forward Observer doesn’t advocate for any of the opinions, views, or policy recommendations listed in this report.  We are passing along information that members of Congress are receiving.)

 

Executive Summary:

The focus of the hearing was the on foreign policy aims and objectives of Russia, as well as current operations, in the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Members of the committee heard from experts who are familiar with President Vladimir Putin’s goals in MENA, including strategic objectives in Libya and Syria; its deepening alliance with Iran, which shares similar objectives with Moscow; and Russian military cooperation throughout the region.  Here are our top takeaways:

  • Military involvement in Syria is being used by Putin for domestic propaganda purposes — to support Putin’s claim to have restored Russia to great power status — and to divert attention away from poor economic conditions.
  • Russian involvement in the Middle East is historic; took hiatus only during President Boris Yeltsin’s term in the 1990s.
  • “Russia’s growing alliance with Iran in particular presents a major challenge to U.S. interests in the region.”
  • Putin wants the US to choose:  ISIS or Assad.  “And as Putin enables Assad, Assad continues an ethnic cleansing in Syria, which increases refugee flows into Europe, thus helping Putin weaken and divide the West.”

 

Full Summary:

Vladimir Kara-Murza, who currently serves as the vice chair of Open Russia, a Russian pro-democracy movement:

  • Russian affairs in MENA are more active today than at any time since the height of the Cold War; Russia and Syria have been allies for decades.
  • “Vladimir Putin’s objectives in the Middle East have been consistent both with his domestic behavior and with his approach to other parts of the world, support fellow dictators and undermine efforts and democratization, what his foreign policy concept refers to as, quote, ‘ideological values imposed from outside,’ end of quote.”
  • Military involvement in Syria being used by Putin for domestic propaganda purposes — to support Putin’s claim to have restored Russia to great power status — and to divert attention away from poor economic conditions.

 

Anna Borshchevskayam, the Ira Weiner fellow at the Washington Institute focusing on Russia’s policy toward the Middle East:

  • Russian involvement in the Middle East is historic; took hiatus only during President Boris Yeltsin’s term in the 1990s.
  • “Putin sought to bring Russia back to the Middle East from the very beginning when he officially came to power in May 2000 and he did so in an anti-Western, zero-sum approach. For Putin to win, the United States had to lose.”
  • Putin has multiple goals in MENA; however, “fundamentally, Putin’s priority is the survival of his own regime, he wants to stay in power. And survival for him is connected to undermining the West.” He fills power vacuums the West leaves behind.
  • “Russia’s growing alliance with Iran in particular presents a major challenge to U.S. interests in the region.”
  • “Together, Moscow and Tehran are in a better position to undermine the U.S. in the Middle East than on their own.”
  • “Putin wants to put the U.S. in front of a choice: it’s either ISIS or Assad. And as Putin enables Assad, Assad continues an ethnic cleansing in Syria, which increases refugee flows into Europe, thus helping Putin weaken and divide the West.”
  • Putin’s advances in Libya, in support of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, are particularly important to keep a watch on; any Western retreat will create another power vacuum the Kremlin will seek to fill.
  • U.S. must actively engage in MENA as the best way to limit Putin’s influence.
  • Hezbollah has been learning from watching Russian troops operate; Russia has been providing air cover for Hezbollah operations.
  • Putin has made it so the U.S. cannot simply act with impunity in many parts of MENA. “He wants us to think twice. We have to think, how is Putin going to react?”
  • Congress should pass a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to define mission focus and purpose.

 

Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, focusing on U.S. national security strategy and counterterrorism policy

  • Increased Russian engagement and assertiveness in MENA since 2015 has created three negative trends: “One is it has accelerated state fragmentation. Two, it has actually heightened the terrorist threat posed in the region and to the United States. And three, it has reinforced a trend towards autocratic and authoritarian rule. It has done this primarily through its longstanding cooperation with Iran, but it’s backing most recently of the Assad regime in Syria.”
  • Early assessment of Trump administration MENA policy: “Quite incoherent and not clear where the pieces do not add up.”
  • No one single force or actor in the region as dominant; competition is multidimensional.
  • Recent U.S. troop surges into parts of the region come “in absence of an overarching strategy.”
  • Despite increasing Russian presence in MENA, regional leaders still consider the United States the “strategic partner of choice,” which we should use more to our advantage.

 

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Photo via Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

OSINT Analyst-1 mines open sources, and produces timely and relevant intelligence reporting.

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