Diversifying Relationships: Russian Policy in the Middle East and its impact on the GCC

During the last five years, Russia’s relations with the GCC have developed along a largely positive trajectory. Moscow’s decision to leave the OPEC+ agreement and its launching of a price war with Saudi Arabia in March 2020 did not threaten the gains made by Russian diplomacy in the region. Following a cooling-off period in 2012–2014, caused by the negative reaction of the GCC States to Russian support of the Assad regime in Syria, overall rapprochement has continued. This has been based on a complex mixture of factors that include-the growing intensity of Moscow’s presence in the region; the changing dynamics in US relations with Russia and the GCC; the evolution of energy markets; ongoing tensions between the Middle Eastern countries and the ongoing transformation of GCC foreign policy. This paper examines the influence that these factors have had on the current development of Russia’s relations with the GCC and it assesses the prospects for a continuing dialogue between the GCC capitals and Moscow, including an analysis of the ability of both sides to raise these relations to a new, qualitative level.

In terms of methodological approaches, this paper studies Moscow’s foreign policy towards the GCC within the framework of Russia’s growing role in the Middle East, its desire to protect its national interests using a wide range of means and the limited availability of resources to achieve these goals. The study is not, however, solely focused on Russia’s bilateral relations with individual GCC states. Instead it looks into areas of divergence and convergence between Moscow and the Gulf on a wide range of regional and international issues including, but not limited to, the Syrian civil war and Iran’s regional activities. The paper will also look into geopolitical risks affecting Russia’s Gulf strategy, the internal drivers determining Moscow’s behaviour in the region and economic aspects of Russia’s diplomatic approach. It will assess the opportunities and challenges faced by Moscow in the Middle East, which in turn have pushed and motivated the Russian government towards more active cooperation with the Gulf. The study demonstrates that, apart from Russia’s confrontation with the West and its ambitions to reinstate itself as a global power, there are other, no less important factors shaping Russian diplomacy in the region.

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