Russia in the Middle East, a Resurgent Empire?

Putin is worried because of reports signalling that over 3000 Russians are fighting alongside ISIS, and as its defeat nears, many of them are expected to come back to Russia. Stability is key to exercise control over these flows. Another of Russia’s interests is the export of nuclear technology for non-military use, building of nuclear powerplants. Russia already has a number of deals in place with Turkey, Egypt and Iran. For this kind of export, stability is paramount. At the same time Russia is one of the biggest arm suppliers to the region, with some estimates signalling that the Middle East accounts for 37,5% of Russia total arm sales. A non-trivial question arises spontaneously: what is better than instability to foster arm sales? An additional fundamental interest is that of having a say in oil prices, on which the Russian economy so heavily depends. Russia has already started cooperating with OPEC and Saudi Arabia, however with poor results, to try and increase the prices of Oil.

Nuclear technology, arm sales and oil politics constitute an explosive mix, and what makes the challenge even harder is that it is “controlled disorder” in the region that maximises Russia’s interests.

To conclude, it’s worth noting that Russia considers the Middle East an area of great, but lower interest when compared to Europe, where its core interests lie (e.g. Ukraine), or Asia, which offers the best mid and long-term prospects for mutually beneficial relations. For this reason, it’s important not to overestimate the Russian propensity to risk in the region, and it is unlikely that Russia will be willing to jeopardize its interest in the two above mentioned areas of the globe to promote its interests in the Middle East.