Modest objectives of Gulf-Russia dialogue
TRAGHIDA DERGHAM HE objectives of the strategic dialogue between Russia and the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are not complicated, but fulfilling them requires the Gulf states to take clear decisions on several issues. This week in Moscow, a new round of the strategic dialogue was held under Saudi’s rotating presidency, amid radical differences over Syria as both sides themselves admit.
However, the two are determined to have cordial relations, each for its own calculations, which could include motives such as Russian-American relations and Gulf-American relations. Moscow wants the six GCC capitals to recognize the key Russian role in the future of the Arab region and the Middle East in general, and is intent to let Arab leaders understand Russia is indispensable when it comes to finding solutions.
It has imposed this equation on the Syrian battlefield primarily, and through it alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran, filling the vacuum the US has chosen to produce by abandoning its traditional relations with the Gulf nations. Despite the Russian positions that are diametrically opposed to the Gulf positions on Syria and Iran, Gulf countries have accepted what the Russian leadership has imposed, agreeing to the principle of separating political differences from economic and strategic relations.
At the economic level, the equation is clear, and it is based on mutual interests. But strategically, this is where the dilemma lies, unless the definition of the term strategic relations has become devoid of its traditional components. Therefore, it is perhaps time for the GCC countries to explain what they have in mind and to elaborate their policies, to avoid being misunderstood and to allow for positive outcomes.
Russia is clear with regard to its strategic alliance with Iran in Syria, and is clear about clinging to Bashar al-Assad, regardless of its hints to the otherwise by claiming it is keen about the regime rather than the president. Russia is also determined to have a permanent foothold in Syria.
The Gulf countries are not opposed to Russia’s consolidation of influence in Syria. They are keen to see a separation between the regime and the man at the helm, but at least publicly, they are determined for Bashar al-Assad to step down. The key difference, therefore, is Bashar alAssad not the long-term strategy in Syria.
Moscow is offering the Gulf countries to be the intermediary who can keep its Iranian partner in check, provided Russian that the Gulf countries agree to a joint security framework and share regional influence with the Islamic Republic
Gulf states recognize the central Russian political role in Syria’s future but they also understand that the Russian military role keeps Bashar al-Assad in power and fundamentally undermines the Syrian opposition backed by the Gulf.
The difference is not superficial after all. It is fundamental and it translates on the battlefield and in the military balance of power on the ground. Russia is a direct party to the war being fought on the other side by Gulf countries, through Syrian rebel groups, though in a scattered manner restricted by the US, given that supplying advanced US-made weapons to third parties needed to change the balance of power requires Washington’s approval.
However, this could also be a convenient excuse for some Gulf countries, which differ among themselves over which faction in the Syrian opposition are worth the risk. Indeed, there exists Chinese-made missiles that can hit Syrian – but not Russian – warplanes in the altitudes they operate at, and yet, those missiles have been withheld. This is while the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis has been making major gains in favor of the Assad regime in Syria.
—Courtesy: AA [Raghida Dergham is Columnist, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, and New York Bureau Chief for the Londonbased Al Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the United Nations. Dergham is Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute, an indigenous, independent, inter-generational think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. An authority on strategic international relations, Dergham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Honorary Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP- the Global Network of Science Academies. She can be reached on Twitter @RaghidaDergham]