VII International Research and Practice Conference “Russia and the world: Dialogues – 2023 Goals and Values”
(May 16, 2023)
First, I would like to express my deep thanks and appreciation to the Organizing Committee for inviting me to participate in this Conference. Of course, I always feel among my friends when I visit Russia.
You know, I come from a region that has witnessed, and continues to experience, the adventures and misfortunes of American foreign policy for decades, perhaps after the Suez crisis of 1956, the last and perhaps the only benefit of this policy in the Middle East. It is natural today, in connection with the Ukrainian crisis and the role of the West in fueling it and prolonging it, to recall this bad American role in destabilizing and spreading chaos in the Arab region and the Middle East as a whole, starting with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, passing through Libya in 2011, and the unequivocal American support for Israel and its settlement and racist policies in the occupied Arab territories, especially Palestine. “For decades now, Washington and its allies have protected Israel with impunity, pushing ahead with its practices as the only settlement occupying power of its kind in the twenty-first century.”
Ladies and Gentlemen
The Ukrainian crisis is also a historical turning point in the international system, and it is also a new turning point in Russia’s relations with the Arab region. Most notably, it revealed a selectivity, a blatant double standard, and a total disregard by the United States and its Western allies for the interests and security concerns of other countries.
This was clearly reflected not only in the Western political and media response to the crisis, but also in the negative and biased American approach to urgent issues in our region, such as the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Iranian nuclear file, the crisis in Syria and the Libyan file.
“It is important to note that despite Western sanctions imposed on Russia since 2014, after its recapture of Crimea, there is general consensus on the fact that Russia’s presence is visible, and even growing, politically, diplomatically, militarily, and to a lesser extent economically in the MENA region.” Russia’s military intervention in Syria in September 2015, at the request of the legitimate government there to counter terrorist movements in that country, is certainly a landmark in its policy in the region. It changed the course of the country’s civil war, maintained legitimacy, and receded terrorism.
The so-called Arab Spring revolutions, and the exploitation of these revolutions by political Islam, helped bring Russia closer to each other and more closely coordinated with the Arab countries involved, including Egypt.
“This was coupled with the U.S. retreat from the region’s problems and reluctance to engage, pro-Islamist political postures such as Egypt, and the Trump-era chaos of U.S. policy, which led countries in the region to seek other partnerships.” “Arguably, the principles of Russian foreign policy – namely, noninterference in internal affairs, sovereign equality, and the non-change of regimes by force – are all consistent with the orientations espoused by almost all Arab states.” It is on this basis that Russia has taken a stand against Western interference in the region.
The fight against terrorism and religious extremism remains at the forefront of Russian foreign policy in our region, which serves the interests of both sides and their national security.
Regarding the repercussions of the Ukrainian crisis on Arab-Russian relations, many Western estimates, supported by reality, indicate that one of the central results of the crisis has been the clear changes that have taken place in the relations of the Middle Eastern countries, with what was called its traditional ally the United States. Countries in the region have maintained open contacts with the Russian leadership, as well as developed ties with China, the region’s largest trading partner.
From the perspective of many, Russia remains an important and indispensable player in the web of interests and relations of the countries of the Arab region and the Middle East with the outside world. Russia maintains friendly relations with the Arab States and commends the balanced attitude adopted by those States towards the crisis, in particular their non-participation in Western economic sanctions and the continued visits of governmental and parliamentary delegations between the Arab States and Russia. “For our Arab part, we have always highlighted the Russian role as a stabilizer in the region, including the Russian military presence in southern Syria.” Moreover, Moscow continues to strengthen its ties with Arab oil-producing countries within the framework of the OPEC+ group and to coordinate with them on oil production. “Despite its preoccupation with the Ukraine crisis, Russia is eager to follow through on its commitments, such as building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, reinvigorating its role in the Libya crisis and maintaining strategic partnerships with countries in the region, and conducting joint military exercises in the Mediterranean such as the one in September 2022 involving 14 countries from the region and beyond, including China and India.”
All of this reflects a clear change in the regional states’ perception of the United States’ place in the regional order, and the leaked Pentagon documents provide further evidence of the region’s countries’ apparent trend to develop relations with Russia (and China). As Russia seeks to increase its influence in the region, the United States is devoting less attention to events in the region. “For their part, the region’s states are pursuing a more independent foreign policy than in the past, which effectively means distancing themselves from the U.S. orbit.”
“Steven Simon, a former US National Security Council member and expert on the Middle East, points out in his April book,”
The Rise and fall of American Ambition in the Middle East (USA: penguin press, 2023) lists several reasons why U.S. policy has failed in our region, including:
1- The incompetence of policymakers in successive U.S. administrations. Simon gives many examples of this inefficiency from the Reagan to the Trump era.
2- the dysfunction of U.S. policymaking organs, a flawed political process driven by political and ideological imperatives, emotional impulses, and a coordination process that often requires consensus among agencies with conflicting priorities.
3- lack of “active engagement” in the region. Simon argues here that Washington has often defined the Middle East in negative terms, focusing on prevention and containment policy rather than genuine engagement and promoting positive change. The author condemned the policy of “dual containment” under Clinton, which tried to constrain both Iraq and Iran independently, paving the way for the Iraq war, and the continued U.S. military presence in the region.
The “triumphalism” that dominated American political thinking with the end of the Cold War also aroused Washington’s arrogance and prevented it from producing serious deliberations about the consequences of American policies and what American interests in the Middle East should be.
4- reliance on military intervention to address some issues, which is counterproductive. Simon criticizes the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the killing or killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He also argues that the United States should not have been too quick to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, where the author believes he was a useful ally in the fight against terrorism.
5- Finally, the author acknowledges that U.S. policy in the Middle East is often driven by an overestimation of its ability to shape events in the region, and to diminish the capacity of the region’s peoples. Believing that the US was “the greatest power on Earth,” he adds, the Bush administration lost its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“The author recommends humility and recognition of the limits of U.S. power in shaping events in the region, arguing that the future of the United States in the Middle East is likely to be similar to its past or present.”
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to refer to the document “New Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” adopted by President Putin on 31 March 2023. The document refers to it as “a new strategy reflecting a new political reality, geopolitical variables, and revolutionary developments in the world, which have accelerated markedly with the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine since 24 February 2022.”
The document, in its part on the features of Russian foreign policy towards the Middle East and the future of relations with many countries in the region, including Egypt, includes some of the pillars of Russian foreign policy in the region, most notably:
1- dealing with the Muslim world as one bloc. This Russian vision is different from that of the United States, which has treated some countries on the basis of their Sunni and Shia affiliations.
2- The new conceptual arrangement for Russia’s foreign policy toward the Middle East, entitled “The Muslim World,” reveals its centrality to Moscow, ranking only behind the Arctic, relations with China and India, and Russia’s presence in the Indopacific. Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the United States and Antarctica are ranked next.
3- The document underlines Russia’s strengthening of multifaceted cooperation with allies and partners in the Muslim world in counterterrorism and providing them with practical assistance in counterterrorism operations.
As I mentioned earlier, combating terrorism and religious extremism in the Middle East region is one of the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy.
4- “Russia’s Efforts to End Regional Differences: The document revealed Russia’s drive to end differences between Iran and Arab states, and between Syria and its neighbors, and to support diplomatic efforts to reintegrate Syria into the Arab system and normalize relations between Turkey and Syria.” Russia – along with China and other countries such as Oman and Iraq – has contributed to the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, providing the two countries with a better opportunity to manage and resolve their differences. Russia often emphasizes the principles of good-neighborliness and of ensuring respect for the sovereignty and independence of all States. This Russian approach is consistent with Russia’s policy in the region, which is characterized by great openness and a cooperative rather than a confrontational or competitive trait with the US and Europe
In this context, the document included the establishment of a comprehensive and sustainable structure for security and regional cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa, based on a combination of the capacities of States and regional organizations. “The new concept signaled Moscow’s intention to cooperate actively with all states and regional and international organizations to implement the Russian concept of collective security for the Persian Gulf region, which, according to the Russian approach, would be an important step toward sustainable and comprehensive stability in the Middle East.”
The reconceptualization of Russia’s foreign policy around the Muslim world has echoed its foreign policy toward Muslim countries for years. “In this regard, the fact that Russia’s defense of ethnic and religious diversity at home is part of its foreign policy agenda cannot be ignored.” In this context, Russia has been keen to gain observer status with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and has taken international initiatives aimed at promoting a dialog of civilizations and cultures. Russia has condemned U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya and has seemed keen to maintain developed relations with Arab and Muslim countries. “In this context, we recall President Putin’s innumerable statements reiterating Moscow’s keenness to develop close and multifaceted relations with the governments of the Muslim world.”
In conclusion, as the Ukrainian crisis represents a challenge to all, it also provides opportunities to push Russian relations with the countries of the Islamic world to wider horizons, especially in light of the common denominators between the two sides, their pride in the system of values, morals and conservative traditions prevalent in their societies, and the desire of both sides to put an end to Western domination of the international system and create a multipolar world based on parity, sovereign equality, common interests and mutual benefits, and respect by each country for the system of values, traditions and choices of other countries, political and economic, so as to ensure security and stability for all.