Forecast: how Biden will share the Middle East with Moscow

Analytics
Forecast: how Biden will share the Middle East with Moscow
Forecast: how Biden will share the Middle East with Moscow
15 December 2020, 14:55
On some issues, the new US administration will create difficulties for Russia, but new opportunities may open up for the Kremlin.

RIAC Vice President, retired ambassador Alexander Aksenenok writes on the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center about how the new US president will deal with Donald Trump's difficult legacy in the Middle East.

It will be especially difficult for Joe Biden to solve the problems of the Middle East; more or less quickly, you can only cancel Trump's decrees, which restricted the entry of citizens of Muslim countries into the United States, and restore US participation in some UN structures. While relations with Iran after Trump's pressure on this country, everything will be difficult and long, and therefore Moscow will have new opportunities in this direction.

Despite the fact that even under Obama, the Americans wanted to limit their military and political investments in the Middle East, because they did not give the desired return, they had to dive deeper and deeper into this problem: the conflicts tearing this region apart are too frequent and loud. It would seem that Trump somewhat reduced the level of his presence there by cutting off military aid to the Syrian opposition, but he still had to launch missile strikes on Syrian targets and introduce the "Caesar Law" designed to stifle the Syrian economy.

Moreover, on the one hand, Trump supported the Kurds in Syria when they fought against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation), on the other hand, he secretly allowed Turkey to attack the same Kurds. Even the withdrawal of US troops from Syria was never completed.

Against this background, Biden will certainly be more consistent and understandable, will work more closely with regional partners, and rely more on diplomacy than on weapons. At the same time, the internal problems of the United States and European and Asian priorities will force him to search for peaceful solutions, with the possibility of using force only in extreme cases.

Syria, of course, will occupy an important place in the US Middle East policy, and Biden will correct Trump's mistakes that allowed Russia and Iran to strengthen their positions there... Moreover, the future Secretary of State Tony Blinkin has already assessed Trump's US policy in Syria as "failed", because of which Washington did not prevent a mass exodus of refugees, and America lost its few remaining levers of pressure.

Here is how Blinkin himself explains these failures: "We tried not to do too much to avoid a repeat of Iraq, but we made the opposite mistake by doing too little".

So the pressure on Syria will continue, and Assad will be given a hint of what he needs to do in order for the US to ease the sanctions. A small US military contingent will also remain in the northeast of the country, and if something happens it can be easily increased. This will limit Russian influence, protect the Kurds in the local self-government bodies they have created, and also force Damascus to comply with UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254.

This policy will largely depend on US relations with Turkey and Israel, because their role in the conflict is very important, and besides, on negotiations on the return of the US to the nuclear deal with Iran. If they come back, they will get closer to Turkey and distance themselves from Israel and Saudi Arabia. But no, then everything will be the other way around and it will be necessary to wait for an aggravation of the situation either in the south or in the north-east of Syria, that is, where the influence of these countries is decisive.

As for the situation in Libya, then it is easier for Biden. Under Trump, the United States took a wait-and-see attitude, giving up leverage to its European allies and trying to balance the actions of internal and external forces in the Libyan conflict. However, since Russia and Turkey have already taken advantage of Europe's helplessness, Biden will be able to act here more decisively, and in which case the settlement will be taken into his own hands. America will certainly tighten the requirements for external parties to the conflict to comply, under the threat of sanctions, the arms embargo according to the letter of the UN Security Council resolutions, and in addition, Washington will more decisively react to the participation of Syrian militants brought in by Turkey or Russian mercenaries in the conflict.

As for Russia, he expects only the worst from Biden, believing that he will conduct his policy from a position of strength. However, the situation cannot be called unambiguously good or bad for Russia: somewhere Moscow will have difficulties, although the local powers will add even more difficulties to it. But new opportunities will emerge as the Biden administration becomes less Pentagon oriented and more likely to seek compromises.

For example, in Syria, the balance of power does not allow the United States to switch to force pressure, and therefore the White House will rather use its influence in the northeast more to demonstrate the presence and maintain political pressure on Russia during negotiations, and in addition, to play the Kurdish card...

Russia has achieved a lot here, having won important victories over international terrorists, confirming its status as a world power and securing military-strategic positions in the Mediterranean, thereby adding to its prestige in the Arab world. Many tasks have already been solved, but since the Syrian government was able to return large territories under its control, Russia has less room for maneuver. Especially now, when relations with Turkey have become complicated due to the events in Karabakh, and Ankara is quite capable of getting closer to the United States again.

Turkish troops were entrenched in the north-east of the country, and the American troops - to the east of the Euphrates, and therefore the restoration of the entire territorial integrity of Syria is hardly possible without agreements on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254. In addition, the prospects for reconciliation between the Syrians themselves look vague, the last meeting of the hard-formed Constitutional Committee of representatives of the government, opposition and civil society was bogged down in disputes and discussions and did not look like a real constitutional process.

The main threat to Syria, which suffers from both sanctions and a pandemic, is now by no means a military one, but an economic one: the struggle for survival, rising prices, shortages of food, medicine, electricity, fuel, destroyed infrastructure - to restore all this, political compromises are needed.

“The Syrian society is weary of the war and deeply alarmed by the uncertain future. Sober-minded representatives of the regime and the opposition are getting closer and closer to agreement on three points: without Russia there can be no political solution, without Turkey - the cessation of hostilities, without the United States - economic recovery. The closer the Syrian presidential elections are, the more urgently Russia needs a new agenda in Syria, so that, having won the war, not to lose in the world...", - the expert concludes.

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