Mod­est ob­jec­tives of Gulf-Rus­sia di­a­logue

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

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]

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