Saturday, September 27, 2008

Russia and the Middle East

I found this article on Stratfor about the geopolitics of the Middle East, and they have intelligence that Russia is beefing up its presence in the Middle East and likely looking to return to its prominent Cold War role in the Middle East. There's so much information in the article that I'll just quote a huge chunk of it:

With Israel sorting itself out internally and the neighboring Arabs lying in wait for the final outcome, this brief respite presents an opportunity for the Russians in the Middle East theater. Russia brought the world back into a Cold War paradigm with its August invasion of Georgia. The idea of a revived Cold War gained further traction in recent weeks when key Russian leaders emerged from the shadows and started popping up in places such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to sit down with their old Latin American drinking buddies and discuss a slew of arms deals.

While the Russians appear to be paying a lot of attention to Latin America, the Middle East remains a viable playing ground for Russia to turn the screws on the West. In fact, Stratfor already has been getting indications that Russian intelligence officers are pouring into Beirut — a traditional Cold War battleground.

Of course, much has changed since the days of Soviet-sponsored chaos in the Middle East. Many of the Palestinian leftist leaders with whom the Soviets worked are either dead or retired. Groups have gone extinct. Alliances have shifted.

Nonetheless, the Russians still have a menu of options in getting back into the Middle East game. They will find no shortage of disaffected Palestinians who are sick of the current state of affairs and would be more than happy to have a foreign state sponsor. Former Marxist groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, after being beaten heavily in the past year by the Turks in northern Iraq, would likely jump at the opportunity to link up with their old Russian backers. Lebanon, which is now experiencing a higher-than-usual degree of communal volatility, has a range of factions for the Russians to choose from. And the list goes on.

Should the Russians decide that it is worth their while to incur the risk of provoking both Israel and Turkey, the Middle East is the next logical place for Moscow to ramp up covert activity. And the time to do so is now, while the Israelis are still distracted.

Turkey already sees the Russians coming. The Turks were extremely displeased to see Russia at war in the Caucasus, and they now are doing everything they can to keep the Russians as far away from the Middle East as possible. For this reason, Stratfor is hearing that the Turks are growing more and more insistent that the peace talks between Israel and Syria move forward — and quickly.

Syria, meanwhile, is in an interesting position. On the one hand, they can listen to their Turkish mediators and pursue an opening with the United States through a peace deal with Israel. On the other hand, they can choose to jump back into the Cold War game with the Russians and work against Western interests, taking all the risks that come with such a plan. In any case, the Syrians will have a lot of hard thinking to do over the next several weeks.

What the article didn't mention (though Stratfor has mentioned it before, as have Turkish journalists) is the suggestion that Russia might already have contracted out at least one operation with the PKK: the bombing of the BTC pipeline right before the South Ossetia war.

There's also no mention of Iran, though Russia's policy vis-à-vis Iran has been quite successful. It has enabled Iran to remain a minor pariah, just isolated enough to prevent the West from being willing to depend on Iran as a transit point of energy from the east, but not crazy enough to start any wars (though this would drive up energy prices and further bog down the US/Israel, which could be useful to Russia). This is significant because besides through Iran, the only other two ways to get energy from the east into Europe are through Russia and through the Caucasus. Russia obviously controls its own territory, and with the South Ossetia war, has successfully closed the Caucasus to Western energy pipelines (all three of them).


Anonymous said...

Klare gets at this in his Resource Wars work: as our traditional energy, water, and soil resources get more constrained, those areas that have these things will rise to power.

As our exploitation of resources speeds up and human population increases, it is natural and expected for there to be conflict over obtaining and utilizing scarce resources. This is a natural law on this planet, and we see it around us every day, this competition for resources. Species that are able to exploit niches are around for longer.


Raționalitate said...

I don't think there's really anything that's inevitable about this. The world's drive for oil isn't based on some natural economic law – it's based on governments' policies of favoring the consumption of oil over other forms of energy. I think the way to rise to power is to free yourself of the usual geopolitical resource concerns and not intervene in your state's economy to the point that it's dependent on a single, diminishing natural resource.