Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a four-day trip to the Gulf in early March, stopping in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a broader effort to boost Moscow’s ties with the region. Although the Gulf monarchies are traditionally considered of some of the U.S’s closest allies, relations between Russia and the Gulf have improved in recent years and there is potential for further cooperation going forward.
Russia’s interests in the Gulf are multifaceted, but key areas include energy, military affairs (especially arms sales), and investment, as well as regional conflicts, most prominently Syria. During his official meetings Foreign Minister Lavrov focused on economic cooperation, in particular Gulf investment in Russia, and negotiations over further coordination on Syria. Russian-Gulf commercial ties are especially relevant at the moment as Moscow is set to host several events next month, including the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Arabia-EXPO 2019, and a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council. Part of Lavrov’s mission was to invite the Gulf countries to attend, and he no doubt made a major effort to persuade them to send high-level delegations. As yet, however, the Gulf monarchies have not showed a willingness to take part. Oxumağa davam et Lavrov’s Gulf trip highlights Russia’s growing regional role→
The civil war in Yemen that erupted in 2014 rapidly became a proxy fight, with a Saudi-led military coalition squaring off against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have seized control of much of the western part of the country, including many of the major population centers. As a result, Yemen’s civil war has generated long-term geopolitical turmoil that extends well beyond the Gulf, drawing regional and global powers into the conflict. Russia in particular is playing a growing role of late, and as the war drags on with no end in sight, it continues to expand its footprint in the country. As it has in Syria, Russia seems to be outmaneuvering the West in Yemen. Moscow maintains close contact with all sides of the conflict and has offered its assistance in working toward a resolution, even as it pursues its own military, commercial, and maritime interests. Oxumağa davam et Russia’s Growing role in Yemen→
President Donald Trump’s announcement at the end of 2018 that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria came as a surprise to all parties involved, sparking particular concern among America’s Syrian Kurdish allies. The move followed President Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS after a four-year military campaign fighting alongside Syrian Kurdish forces. This sudden and unexpected decision has been widely criticized not only by allies but also those inside the White House, with many analysts arguing that the U.S. withdrawal will expose the Syrian Kurds to an attack by Turkey.
The news caught the Pentagon and local Syrian allies off-guard and ultimately led to the resignation of several senior U.S. officials, including Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS. According to McGurk’s resignation letter, the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops would be dangerous and lead to a risk of resurgence among the remnants of ISIS in Syria. Oxumağa davam et Will the Syrian Kurds strike a deal with Moscow?→
On November 19, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid a long-awaited official visit to Belarus, where he met with his counterpart, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. On this occasion, the Belarusian and Azerbaijani state news agencies praised the level of bilateral strategic cooperation, widely citing Lukashenka’s words to Aliyev: “Belarus has been waiting for you” (Belta, November 19).
The Azerbaijani president’s trip to Minsk coincided with “growing frictions” between Belarus and Armenia, two formal allies within the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The latest diplomatic row was sparked by Lukashenka’s recent meeting with Azerbaijani ambassador to Belarus, Latif Gandilov. During their talks, the Belarusian leader ended up revealing the content of confidential conversations among CSTO member countries (Azerbaijan is not a member of the alliance) regarding the choice of the organization’s next secretary general (Turan.az, November 12). These revelations infuriated the authorities in Yerevan (see EDM, November 29). “It is strange that Belarus reveals closed-door conversations to [Armenia’s] adversary, Azerbaijan,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan angrily stated (News.am, November 20). Oxumağa davam et Belarus and Azerbaijan Enhance Their Strategic Military Partnership→
United States National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Azerbaijan on October 24, and held meetings with President Ilham Aliyev and other high-level state officials. Bolton appeared in Baku immediately following his visit to Moscow (Trend.az, October 24). The US National Security Advisor’s Russian agenda and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin suggested that Washington will not be rekindling relations with Moscow under the current circumstances.
Bolton’s ensuing trip to the South Caucasus included stops not only in Azerbaijan but also Armenia and Georgia. As the highest US official from the Donald Trump administration to come to the region since Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to Tbilisi last year (Whitehouse.gov, August 1, 2017), Bolton’s three-country tour raised questions of whether the White House is interested in more seriously reengaging the region, which had been neglected under the previous US administration. During Barrack Obama’s presidency, US influence in the South Caucasus had declined as the White House paid more attention to bilateral relations with Russia. Oxumağa davam et John Bolton’s Caucasus Trip: Growing US Influence in Region?→
On August 16, the Azerbaijani MP and head of the Azerbaijan-Russia interparliamentary group Ali Huseynli told local media that “It would be advisable to consider Azerbaijan’s participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization” (CSTO). The sensational statement triggered a public discussion on Azerbaijan’s possible membership in the Russia-led CSTO and its consequences for the region. While some state officials described this prospect as a logical extension of Baku’s cooperation with Moscow, others strictly opposed the idea, stating that it would pose dangerous challenges to the country. Oxumağa davam et What Would Membership in the CSTO Mean for Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus?→
Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a surprise official visit to Azerbaijan, on September 27. The formal reason for his arrival was to hold talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as well as to jointly attend the Ninth Interregional Russia-Azerbaijan Forum (Kremlin.ru, September 27; AzerNews, September 28). Local mass media in both Azerbaijan and Russia described Putin’s visit as a next significant step in improving the strategic partnership between the two countries (AzerNews, September 26).
Prior to sitting down together in Baku, the last time the two leaders spoke face-to-face was in Sochi, Russia, on September 1 (AzerNews, September 1). During that meeting, Putin and Aliyev signed several documents encompassing the economy, agriculture, tourism, and the defense sector. The most significant outcome of their talks was indeed a new $5 billion arms deal to purchase Russian-made weaponry. Moreover, President Aliyev stated that the number of bilateral military agreements will increase in the near future (Izvestia, September 3). Oxumağa davam et Could Vladimir Putin’s Visit to Azerbaijan Shift the Regional Balance of Power?→