Syria Crisis Plays Crucial Role in Determining Future of Middle East

Friday, November 6, 2015

Interview with Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

In the following interview with Arman daily, Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, analyst of international issues and university professor has discussed the goals behind Russia’s recent moves in the region and the future outlook of the Middle East after the end of terrorism crisis in Syria.

Q: Russia is trying to encourage cooperation of Arab countries and bring them together under a single umbrella. On the other hand, it is now cooperating with Iran and Iraq over Syria crisis. What goal does Moscow seek through this measures? In other words, what is the final destination that Moscow is heading to?

A: As for the first part of this question, it must be noted that brining all these countries under a single umbrella by Moscow may not seem to be a very good option. However, generally speaking, what can be said about Russia’s policy in the Middle East on the basis of external observations is that direct goals of Russians in Syria have been expressed in accordance with a specific method. In the first step, Russia is following a security approach to the Middle East, meaning that Putin ties security of his own country to security of the Middle East. In more accurate terms, Moscow is doing this due to geographical propinquity to the Middle East and because of the relations that Russia has with some regional governments, including the one in Syria, as a result of challenges posed by the rise of extremism in parts of Syria to peripheral regions of Russia, including North Caucasus. On the other hand, in order to be recognized as a global power, Moscow is considering the Middle East as a fertile ground for its activities. It must be also noted that there is good ground and potential for Russians to get active in this region. On the other hand, Moscow has good relations with almost all Middle Eastern countries and shares some views with them, including with regard to certain issues such as the criticism of some US policies in the Middle East. In fact, it can be also said that perhaps Russia has felt some sort of psychological and political void in the region, which Moscow believes it can fill in this way. Therefore, the current level of Russia’s activity in the Middle East is very remarkable, extensive, and to some extent unprecedented following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Of course, these activities can be seen in recent measures taken by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, which vary from development of his country’s relations with a wide range of countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to recent display of a new approach and new measures in Syria in addition to strengthening relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. On the whole, Russia is gradually turning into a major transregional actor in the Middle East’s developments.

Q: Some analysts believe that since Saudi Arabia and countries following its policies, including Qatar, Jordan, and Kuwait are against Iran’s role in the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq, they can easily get along with Russia. In other words, one can even claim that the silence of these and other Arab countries in the face of Russia’s operations in Syria is a telltale sign of such an agreement. Will these countries finally join Russia’s anti-terrorist bloc?

A: You cannot consider Arab countries in their totality as a single political unit because among these countries, some Arab states are far from radical and extremist views of Saudi officials and some countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq have friendly relations with Iran. Even a country like Egypt, which lacks diplomatic relations with Iran, has indirectly expressed its common views with Iran at least on the situation in Syria during past few months. Therefore, we are actually faced with a plural and diverse set of Arab countries, which are by no means a harmonious group. Even within the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], there are different viewpoints among Oman, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia about relations with Iran and other regional issues. During past days, Oman’s foreign minister had a meeting with Bashar Assad in which he discussed with Assad the ongoing crisis in Syria as well as negative positions taken by some Arab states on Syria. Therefore, you cannot talk about a single Arab viewpoint in this regard, though Saudi Arabia is the main subject of discussion here.

Therefore, in response to the question that can Russia create a shared viewpoint among Arab countries, it must be noted that according to the available evidence, Russia is well aware that the Arab world is not unified and, therefore, Moscow’s relations with any one of Arab countries follow their own pattern. In other words, the logic governing Russia’s relations with Saudi Arabia is totally different from the logic that governs its relations with Syria or Iraq. On the whole, it must be noted that Putin pursues his own interests in each and every one of these countries. However, the interests of Russia in every one of these countries have been defined in a specific manner and Russia does not seem to be trying to create a common viewpoint among Arabs, or in other words, establish a uniform relationship with all Arab countries. The sure thing is that Russia is developing its relations with every one of these Arab countries and when developing diplomatic ties, Russians know about their limits and are well aware that all Arab countries will have a set limit for relations with Russia. It seems that none of these countries view Russia in the old fashion that was common during the Cold War period.

Q: Can’t Moscow’s effort to take advantage of all available options in the Middle East be a threat to the region and especially pose a threat to interests of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Iran in Syria?

A: It is presumed that international issues cannot be simply viewed as black and white pictures because every one of them includes many factors and complications. The current measures taken by Russia in Syria have been undoubtedly more aimed at bolstering the Syrian government, and although bolstering the Syrian government is a common policy pursued by the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran as well, it would not be an accurate analysis to think that Russia is attacking the positions of Assad government’s opposition groups simply for the sake of Hezbollah and Iran. There is some sort of overlap between Russia’s interests and those of Iran. Tehran and Moscow are both opposed to empowerment of terrorist groups. However, it must be noted that despite existence of common grounds and overlaps, which are at times undeniable, between the approach taken by Iran and Hezbollah to Syria and the stance adopted by Russia on issues related to Syria, there are also differences between the two sides from the standpoint of epistemology and their fundamental viewpoints. In a large-scale analysis, all these issues must be seen together and passing a simple black and white judgment on them must be avoided. From an analytical viewpoint, what seems to be really interesting about Russia is that Russia’s measures in Syria are, as put by the Western countries, game changer and Russia is apparently changing the regional and transregional games in Syria. The Vienna conference on Syria, which was held recently, was an outcome of the changes that have taken place in Syria as a result of military operations by Russians. Whether this issue is good or bad and whether measures taken by Russia in Syria are beneficial or useless all seem to depend on the attitude and viewpoint of other actors. Any actor has its own special viewpoint on this issue, but what seems to be important about Syria is that the crisis in this terrorism-stricken country will become more complicated. As a result, international layers of this crisis will gradually increase and, in other words, international aspect of the crisis will become more and more profound in Syria and in some cases deepening of a crisis may lead to special solutions as well. What is beyond any doubt, however, is that Russia’s operations have created a new situation in Syria and have brought about serious changes along their course.

Q: Where the Middle East will end up as a result of the presence of all regional and transregional actors?

A: The crisis in Syria plays a very determining role in setting the future course of the Middle East and, for this reason, all regional and international actors are now focused on the Middle East. However, one can dare say that the future Middle East will be totally different from the past. One of the main differences is that it would not be merely shaped by transregional powers, but they will be merely part of regional actors while true regional actors like Iran will be able to play a very effective role in determining future outlook of the Middle East.

*Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour is the former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva. Prior to taking up this post, he was the Director of the Institute for Political and International Studies, the research branch of Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Sajjadpour received his Ph.D. in political science from George Washington University and was a post–doctoral fellow at Harvard. He has taught at the College of International Relations of Tehran University, as well as at Azad University and Iran’s National Defense University.

Key Words: Syria Crisis, Russia, Middle East, Iran, US, Arab Countries, North Caucasus, Global Power, Vienna Conference, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin, Sajjadpour

Source: Arman Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: USNI News, Business Insider

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