President Putin and the Middle East
On 7 May this year, Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin with a grandiose ceremony and he is now closely preparing the first foreign policy measures in his third term as president of Russia. Such measure is the appointment of Dmitry Medvedev to participate at the 38th G8 summit in Camp Davis, on 18-19 May. Also, Russia will host the G8 summit in 2014. Furthermore, everyone knows Putin decided not to participate in the NATO summit in Chicago: he expressed that choice even before winning the elections and his decision is causing a great deal of speculations. However, it appears one of his first foreign meetings as a president is going to be with his American homologue, even if Obama’s term is close to the end or maybe precisely because of that.
The international media is currently considering the possibility of Putin visiting Israel one more time (he did that first in 2005), shortly after his meeting with Barak Obama. The ties between Russia and Israel have become stronger during the last two decades also because over one million Jews emigrated from the former USSR to Israel, and the members of the Russian- speaking Jewish community have occupied influential positions in the Israeli politics as well as in the economic, scientific and cultural life, thus contributing to the development of the relations be- tween the two countries.
There is also another relevant aspect: the Middle East has regained its status of competition arena between Russia and the Western countries, especially the USA. During the Cold War, Russia lost its influence in Egypt, as well as the Egyptian and Libyan military navy bases. After 1990, Russia lost yet another important Arab country where they had had a strong influence – Iraq. Therefore, in order to maintain an important area of influence in the Middle East, Russia granted constant support to the current Syrian regime and kept its only military navy base in the Mediterranean in Tartus. Considering the new developments within the Arab Awakening, Russia is now using all opportunities to promote its interests in the area and to recuperate the lost positions and image (many times Russia is seen as a supporter of the oppressive regimes); to this end, Israel can play an important role. Of course, it does not mean Russia will neglect its relations with another power pole in the area, Saudi Arabia (president Putin was the first Russian head of state to pay an official visit in Saudi Arabia in 2007, and then he went on to Qatar and Jordan). Also, Russia will maintain good cooperation relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries in the fields of technology and the military. Actually, we believe Russia will maintain its positions regarding several important regional issues such as the conflict with Iran and the peace process between Israel and Palestine by adopting a foreign policy of keeping in contact with all parts, without neglecting to support its allies and at the same time negotiating with their opponents.
Furthermore, Russia appears to be interested in getting involved in the new relations now developing between Israel, Greece and Cyprus. This can facilitate a strengthened position for the Russians in east Mediterranean region, including the promoting of Russian economic interests, considering the newly discovered natural gas resources; also, it can be a valid counterbalance to the Turkish influence in the area. At the same time, Israel will try to use the Russian intentions to its advantage, in order to fight back some anti-Israeli positions and promote its own interests in the region. However, Israel will surely remain the main partner to the US strategy in the Middle East and will not develop relations with Russia to the detriment of this partnership; in its turn, Rus- sia is aware of this arrangement.
Russia’s main concern on our continent is to keep Europe divided as well as to develop a new strategy considering the current European situation. In the meantime, Russia pays special attention to the Middle East in order to promote and defend the Russian national interests. In this respect, a potential partnership with Israel can be beneficial to both parts, and not just for the Mid- dle East but for other areas as well, such as the Caucasus. Most likely, Russia will succeed in maintaining a relevant presence in the Middle East; however, the Russian position is never going to return to what it used to be in the beginning of the Cold War.