COVID-19 Will Challenge Russia’s Ambitions in the Middle East

News

13 April 2020

COVID-19 Will Challenge Russia’s Ambitions in the Middle East
Photo: Julie Lunde Lillesæter

​In two recent articles, Pavel K. Baev argues that Russia's ambitions in the Middle East will be challenged in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia's objectives in Syria may be severely halted by the extraordinary force with which the pandemic has hit Moscow since early April. However, a setback in Syria may also lead Russia to re-enforce its role as 'champion of the counter-revolutionary cause' with yet another pro-active move in the Middle East – a region which is set to experience a new wave of revolutionary protests resulting from the economic decline following the pandemic.

​In the first article, published by Panorama, Baev argues that the unsatisfactory oil deal with Saudi Arabia has shown Putin's new readiness to make concessions, and that he may be compelled to make further concessions as Russia experiences an economic decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The military intervention in Syria can only be sustained by a considerable surge in troop deployment and financial aid, a move that will be unpopular in domestic public opinion which already shows deep disappointment with Putin's handling of the corona crisis. "Putin will have to consider the option of withdrawing for real, after several previous false starts. This will certainly signify a major geopolitical retreat for Russia and the end of its strategic designs for establishing a permanent naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean anchored to the Tartus base," writes Baev. 

Read the full article here.

In the second article – published by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) – Baev argues that the domestic situation in Russia might itself become a major driver of a new offensive against revolutions in the Middle East. The public dismay over Putin's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, loathing to spend accumulated financial reserves to provide support to boost the economy, is an incentive for a pro-active counter-revolutionary move. An additional incentive may arise in Syria as Moscow might have to withdraw its forces there. Covering this setback with a new pro-active move can appear as a rational choice. "Fears of the existential threat to the autocratic regime from the sudden rise of revolutionary energy and over-estimation of own military potency come together to shape a volatile and dangerous decision-making," writes Baev.

Read the full article here.

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