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Abstract only
Derek Averre

The concluding chapter revisits the key debates, outlined in our explanatory framework and followed up in successive chapters, to draw conclusions about how the Arab uprisings and the conflicts in the MENA region have influenced Russia’s relations with regional actors and the Western powers. We identify the key driving factors explaining Russia’s actions and consider how its more active engagement in the region has impacted its own policy thinking and practice. We challenge some of the key assumptions in the literature on Russian foreign policy since the inception of the Arab Spring and consider how Russia’s experiences might impact its future wider role in the regional and international order. We conclude with, first, a personal assessment of the collective failures of both Russia and the Western powers to mitigate the mass atrocities generated by the MENA conflicts, their diverging approaches to international order and the implications for future multilateral cooperation; and second, how Russia’s experience of the Syria conflict has influenced its policy thinking and practice in the present war in Ukraine, particularly in terms of Moscow’s resort to military statecraft to achieve its political and security objectives.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
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The Arab Spring and Russia
Derek Averre

The introduction chapter opens with an overview of the international reaction to the Arab uprisings and the evolution of Russia’s response, initially through international diplomacy and subsequently through its military intervention in the Syrian civil war. We highlight the puzzles presented by Russian foreign policy in the MENA region and introduce the explanatory framework, posing key questions that are explored in subsequent chapters of the book. We focus on the beliefs of Russia’s governing elite about the international system and how these beliefs shape its approach to norms relating to sovereignty, the use of force and human rights, underpinning its mediation in MENA conflicts and its relations with the regional and external powers; on Russia’s approach to a MENA regional security environment beset by intensified inter-state rivalries and intra-state conflicts; how Russia deals with militant Islamism, shaped by its own experience of insurgency in its restive North Caucasus region; and how domestic political, institutional and societal factors have influenced Moscow’s decision-making in response to the uncertainties generated by the Arab uprisings. We challenge common assumptions in the Western literature that Russia’s MENA policies are motivated fundamentally by geopolitical confrontation, with Russia recovering its Cold War-era strategic presence through competition-by-proxy and unwavering support for regional dictatorships. Finally, we outline the research design, emphasising our extensive use of evidence derived from primary source material, academic writing by Russian and MENA experts as well as Western scholars, and highlighting the contribution of the volume to the literature on Russian foreign policy.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
The challenge of the Arab Spring
Derek Averre

Chapter 5 explores Russia’s approach to the rise of political Islam in the context of both the Arab Spring and its campaigns to quell Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. We investigate the literature on terrorism and political violence, together with evidence provided by international organisations about the participation of violent non-state actors in social and economic governance in MENA countries, analysing how Russia has promoted reductive narratives about the ‘fight against terrorism’ and instrumentalised the threat of transnational militant Islamism to justify its intervention in Syria. We examine how the Russian state’s campaign against those designated as terrorists in the MENA region has been shaped by internal debates over the threat to state cohesion posed by the spread of Islamism in Russia, and how that campaign has in turn affected its domestic policies. We focus on Moscow’s response to the challenge posed by Islamic State and other extremist groups in the context of the return of Russian-speaking ‘foreign fighters’ from Iraq and Syria to Russia’s Muslim regions. We consider how Russia, which identifies itself as a secular, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country, addresses the religious aspects of its national identity, and how the increasing prominence of the Russian Orthodox Church impacts Russian approaches to domestic Islam and its policies in the Arab world more generally. Finally, we examine the challenges posed by the policies of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, both to Russia’s relations with the Islamic world and to how Russia governs its Muslim North Caucasus regions.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
State fragmentation, inter-state rivalries and international discord
Derek Averre

Chapter 1 explores Russia’s involvement in the political and security affairs of the MENA region and explains Moscow’s approach to the unfolding instability there in the context of its broader foreign policy thinking. It opens by investigating the causes of the Arab uprisings and goes on to consider how Russia has interpreted the policy challenges posed by the fragmentation of political authority, the emergence of non-/quasi-state actors and the intensification of regional rivalries, motivated by its perception of the dual threat to stability of, first, the spread of militant Islamism, and second, ‘regime change’ caused by external Western interventions inspired by the idea of democratic reform. This is followed by a close analysis, drawing extensively on Russian official and expert sources, of Russia’s political and diplomatic engagement with the MENA states – in particular the key regional powers Iran, Turkey and Israel – and with the principal external actors, namely the US, Europe and China, examining how Moscow negotiates transactions with regional and external power-brokers to safeguard its core interests. We conclude the chapter by challenging the argument, prevalent in the existing literature, that Russia’s actions are consciously designed to undermine the West’s aims in pursuit of strategic pre-eminence in the region. We argue that, in the context of enduring regional rivalries and intra-state hostilities and the diminishing agency of the external powers, Russia’s policies have been largely reactive, motivated by limited goals, aimed at diversifying its links with MENA leaderships and accommodation with the Western states in order to manage regional conflicts.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
Derek Averre

Chapter 2 focuses on the Syrian civil war, international responses to the crisis and Russia’s political, diplomatic and humanitarian involvement through successive phases of the conflict. We investigate its causes and consequences, analysing Moscow’s diplomatic confrontation with the West and examining Russia’s political and military support for the Assad government in the various multilateral negotiating formats aimed at securing a resolution of the conflict, in particular the UN-sponsored Geneva talks and the trilateral Astana format led by Russia, Iran and Turkey. We assess the impact of Russia’s military role in the civil war and how it changed regional security arrangements, going on to consider how the discord between Russia and the West has been reflected in the ‘information war’ – not least over the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces – that has vitiated attempts to manage the conflict. The chapter concludes by challenging common arguments in the academic and expert literature about Russia’s intentions and whether its Syria policy might signal further interventions to support friendly MENA governments and consolidate its positions in the region. We argue that Russia has sought an inclusive transition in order to preserve Syrian statehood and prevent further instability; however, its support for Assad and use of disinformation have combined to undercut trust and cooperation with the West. We conclude that Russia faces considerable constraints in dealing with regional crises and must seek support from the Western powers in order to resolve the Syria conflict and limit its future military engagement.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
Derek Averre

Chapter 3 addresses the question of how Russia’s domestic politics has shaped its policies in the MENA region and how its involvement there has influenced internal developments in Russia. We investigate the literature on how domestic and international political and social environments combine to shape its interests and strategies, examining how the governing elite under Vladimir Putin has sought to consolidate a strong domestic state authority by manufacturing a distinctive national identity in order to reassert Russian statehood and reinforce societal cohesion against externally promoted liberal ideas. We consider to what extent its approach to the Arab Spring, privileging order and stability over legitimate demands for social change, is an expression of its preoccupation with its own domestic order and concerns over Western challenges to its legitimacy. We question assertions, prevalent in the literature, that Moscow’s intervention in Syria be explained by the need to rally domestic support for Putin and that the ascendancy of his authoritarian leadership inevitably translates into the use of coercive power and diplomatic heft to sustain illiberal regimes; we argue that other factors better explain Russia’s intervention in Syria and its policies to deal with crises across the MENA region. We identify the political, economic and security actors driving Russian policy and show how the rising personalism in foreign policy decision-making, concentrated in Putin’s presidential administration, and the decline of political institutions have compromised its effectiveness. Finally, we consider the role of public debates and media commentary in Russia in shaping its regional policies.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
Derek Averre

Chapter 4 investigates how Russia’s involvement in the Arab Spring has influenced its role in a changing international order and how the contest over power and norms has become a defining feature of its current relations with the West. We examine how Russia’s cultural and historical beliefs and distinctive vision of the international system of sovereign states are reflected in its attitudes to international law, often in opposition to Western approaches. Drawing on the work of leading international relations and legal scholars as well as Russian presidential and foreign ministry documents, we offer a critical analysis of how Russia articulates its normative position on issues of sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, the use of force and responsible protection of populations in order to defend the legality and moral rightness of its policies in the context of its military intervention in Syria, and how Russia justifies its policies on humanitarian aid. We conclude by highlighting, first, how Russia’s search for international legitimacy in terms of rule-making is bound up with its need to secure its international status, consistent with its ideas of the emergence of a multipolar world, and how it exerts diplomatic power to make strategic use of normative arguments in pursuit of its wider political and security aims in challenging the Western-led ‘rules-based’ international order; and second, how Russia is making a decisive shift away from engagement with the West over liberal approaches to responsible protection norms and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
Derek Averre

Chapter 6 offers an empirical assessment of Russia’s economic and security interests in the MENA states and how they have shaped specific aspects of its military and trade policies. Drawing on defence/economic data from authoritative sources, we analyse Russia’s deployment of military power in the Syria conflict, assessing to what extent this reflects a militarisation of Russia’s broader security policy aimed at maximising its geostrategic influence; we then examine Russia’s trade interests and ask whether the MENA region represents a priority in its foreign economic policy. We challenge the common Western notion of a ‘resurgent’ Russia that seeks to entrench its geopolitical position in the MENA region by committing expeditionary forces for power projection, in competition with other external states; we argue that, while the limited Syria intervention had a substantive impact on Russia’s military planning and while Moscow’s economic and security interests underpin a more pronounced presence in the wider region, there are substantive external and domestic constraints on Russia’s foreign policy ambitions deriving from both the unstable security environment and Russia’s own limited resources. Finally, we consider how Russia’s MENA strategy is encompassed within its broader foreign policy thinking and practice and how the Putin leadership marshals its resources to achieve its objectives. We conclude that, though a more influential future role in MENA affairs cannot be ruled out, the limited structural power at Russia’s disposal is out of proportion to the longer-term political-military and economic investment that a commanding presence in a conflict-prone region would require.

in Russian strategy in the Middle East and North Africa
Author:

The book presents a detailed analysis of Russia’s involvement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the turbulent period since the Arab uprisings in 2011. It examines the key policy challenges faced by Russia in the MENA region, in the context both of its own domestic politics and of a changing international system, offering a conceptually rich study that reflects the profound complexity of the evolution of Russian foreign policy over the last decade. The book incorporates chapters on Russia’s involvement in MENA politics and its engagement with other key actors external to the region; Russia’s political and military involvement in the Syrian civil war; the domestic sources of its foreign policymaking in the MENA region; its contest with the Western powers over international norms; its response to the challenge posed by Islamist extremism in the MENA region, including the return of foreign fighters to Russia’s North Caucasus; and its political-military and economic interests in the MENA region. The concluding chapter offers some key insights into Russia’s MENA strategy and analyses the implications of its involvement there for its broader foreign policy, not least its war with Ukraine. The book responds to the surge of interest in Russia’s more assertive strategy following its military campaigns in Syria and Ukraine, challenging arguments expressed in the existing literature while offering an original and vivid account of Russian thinking and decision-making since the inception of the Arab Spring.

China, Russia, and the United States
John M. Owen

Nye defines soft power as ‘the ability to get others to want the outcomes you want’. Soft power is non-coercive; it persuades, seduces, and co-opts. Soft power is power, or the ability to achieve outcomes that one wants. Except in the unlikely event that a state enjoys universal appeal, its soft power will always encounter resistance and balancing from other actors who want different outcomes. Today, US soft power provokes balancing from China and Russia. That balancing sometimes is done with soft power. But soft and hard power are imperfect substitutes; if a state can use soft instead of hard power, it can also do the reverse. Thus Russia and China sometimes balance against US soft power with hard power. Russia has answered US soft power with military power in Georgia and Ukraine, while China has answered US soft power with the Belt and Road Initiative. Although the world is better off when states use soft power, it is ultimately entangled with hard power; soft power thus does not provide an escape from traditional great-power competition.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy