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The Rise Of Russia And China Due To The Declining Influence Of The US In West Asia – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

The Rise of Russia and China Due to the Declining Influence of the US in West Asia

Anil Trigunayat

The recent high-level interactions by President Putin have placed him in a favorable position in the region along with China as the influence of Washington (US) is deemed to be declining.


As the US and the West are stuck in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, apart from the ongoing energy crisis and cuts, President Putin (on December 6) dashed to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to meet and deliberate with UAE President Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), then quickly back to Moscow to meet Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi (on December 7) overtly to discuss the deteriorating situation in Gaza. Putin is not too fond of travelling abroad let alone the current ICC warrant against him. Hence this visit acquires a special strategic significance in terms of symbolism and substance. A grand welcome also awaited him.

In the last few years apart from his extended neighborhood in Central Asia he only preferred to visit close friends — PM Narendra Modi, President Xi Jinping, and Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Besides, his key focus turned eastwards, a natural extension of his Eurasian policy. The Middle East in that context acquires a greater significance as the local perceptions about the decreased US commitment to the region have gained greater traction. The two wars have also proved that Putin has friends in the region and is willing to tango with them. It was evident in the reaction to the Russian war in Ukraine when even as they may not have approved it they refused to subscribe to any sanctions against Moscow.

In fact, UAE has become a major trade and transit conduit and a partner for the Russians with over a million Russians visiting the Emirate and many rich oligarchical Russians preferring the safe environs in the region. The bilateral trade with the UAE has surpassed $ 9 billion (highest ever). Dirham became an intermediate currency. SCO and BRICS are becoming new plurilateral preferences for the regional majors.

Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran among themselves control and tend to stabilize the crude oil supplies for the world and add to their coffers more revenue and Petrodollars, even as the US and others including their consumer markets may think otherwise. Only recently the OPEC+ had decided to continue with the cuts in production and supplies. As there were certain glitches that may have engineered Putin’s flash visit. Geopolitics of oil has been a potent tool in the international discourse ever since the 1970s. The Russia-Ukraine war further proved it. Moreover, the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has the potential to destabilize the already stressed global markets.

Russia’s Plans

Meanwhile, MBS, who had detailed discussions with President Putin, claimed, “We share many interests and many files that we are working on together for the benefit of Russia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the Middle East, and the world as well,” and that the advancing coordination between Riyadh and Moscow has already “helped remove tensions in the Middle East”. OPEC+ was the mainstay of their partnership, which was well outlined by Kremlin Spokesman Peskov. “We talked again about cooperation in OPEC+, in which both parties agree that our countries bear a great responsibility for interaction in order to maintain the international energy market at the proper level, in a stable, predictable state,” he said.

Russia has also been trying to regain the lost Soviet space in the region. Their intervention in Syria in 2015 not only propped up the Assad regime but gave them a strategic foothold and bases in the Mediterranean as well. Iran has been an important partner in that despite intra-regional differences. In recent times Iran has been accused of supplying drones and other military equipment to Moscow. Putin said that the relations between the two are at their best level and will become wider, deeper, and more dynamic.

Like Russia, in the context of regional issues, Raisi also placed the onus on the West and its unilateralism, stating, “What has caused the suffering of humanity is unilateralism and the unjust world order, one of the manifestations of which can be seen in Gaza today.” “What is more unfortunate is that these crimes are supported by the United States and Western countries or it is faced with the silence and indifference of international organizations claiming human rights and shows their inefficiency,” he further added, while calling Israel an illegitimate child of America. Iran calls itself a part of the Axis of Honour, as opposed to being called a part of the Axis of Evil by the US.

The Gaza war also has a special interest because Russia like Qatar and Turkey has good and trusting relationships with Hamas, especially its political wing and they wield good influence with them which has helped several Russian-origin Israelis being released by Hamas out of the 240 hostages taken on October 7 and remain a major negotiating leverage. Speaking at the Doha Forum (on December 10) Foreign Minister Lavrov reiterated similar sentiments both in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war as well as the Gaza war and Palestinian issue.

Both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have an excellent rapport with Moscow. Last year, they helped in the release of American and Ukrainian prisoners captured by Russia in the war and some captives in Moscow on the charges of spying. This shows that there is great trust that has been further enriched during this visit by Putin. This is likely to continue as, incidentally, Putin has announced his candidature to rerun for the presidency in 2024, and there is really no doubt that he will win.

Way Forward

In recent years there has been a significant change in the policies of major powers especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE who are not only diversifying their energy resources and relations but also expanding their geo-strategic space, especially into Asia in which China, India, Japan, and South Korea (major buyers of hydrocarbons), through their Act East policy, are important and this also applies to Russia in a big way.

In the geopolitical sense, their quest to join SCO and BRICS is helping in depolarising the given global order (or disorder) as they have chosen to pick the cherries themselves. Likewise, these middle powers at least in the regional sense are also rather adroitly wading through the superpower-contested dynamic and carving a strategic space for themselves.

While the Israel-Hamas war may have arguably taken away and distracted the heat from the US’ excessive indulgence in the Ukraine war, the general consensus is that a designed or by default conflagration of the war could create an uncontrollable crisis which neither West Asian nor the other world powers want. They would like to see the conflict contained, which Lavrov and many other Arab leaders including Qatari PM also reiterated at the 21st Doha forum.

Hence, Russian influence with the Iranians and correspondingly with Hezbollah and others may have been raised with Putin apart from discussing the ‘Day After’ scenario for diffusing the Israeli-Palestine crisis with some forward movement on talks and a two-state solution. Of course, the US being on board is a prerequisite for that. Beleaguered Secretary Blinken’s multiple visits to the region in the last two months also aim at the situation hereafter. However, these high-level interactions by President Putin have placed him in a favorable position in the region along with China as the influence of Washington is deemed to be declining.

Anil Trigunayat is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.

Disclaimer: This commentary is based on the inputs received from the public domains in general and the FirstPost in particular. Views are the author’s own.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Vamsi Gokaraju, a research intern at IMPRI.

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