A role in the Middle East

The man in the Kremlin takes charge. Thanks partly to mistakes by the West, Russia is working on new deals.

The man in the Kremlin takes charge. Thanks partly to mistakes by the West, Russia is working on new deals. In the end the question is always the same: what is Russia’s objective in the Middle East? Diverse answers have been posited, but as events unfold, they become less convincing. It is certainly important for a petro-state like Russia to maintain a foothold in the world’s key region for oil and gas production in order to have some influence on prices. Saudi Arabia and Iran alone control almost 30% of the planet’s confirmed oil reserves. Iran, if it can truly manage to free itself from the legacy of sanctions and internal distortions and make a full return to the global commercial stage, could exploit its enormous reserves of natural gas (almost 16% of the world’s confirmed reserves, only second to those of Russia) and compete with Russia, threatening its position as the preferred supplier to the rich European energy market.

This fact may explain a number of things, for example, why Russia is never a true friend of its ally Iran, nor a true enemy of Iran’s adversary, Saudi Arabia. But it does not explain everything. Important changes in the energy sector are also playing out elsewhere. For the first time in history, the world’s largest consumer of oil, the USA, is also its largest producer of oil (almost 14 million barrels per day, compared with Saudi Arabia’s 12 million). Fracking and shale oil technology have changed everything. But the argument that Russia harbours a secret ambition to challenge the American hold on the Middle East and that Moscow wants to compete with Washington on a global scale does not hold water. The Kremlin is perfectly aware that it has no realistic chance in that game. The gap between Russia and the United States in terms of political, economic, military and technological power is unbridgeable. 

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