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Defence & Arms Last Updated: Oct 18, 2019 - 1:58:44 PM


The Kremlin's Middle East Security Concept
By Nataliya Bugayova and Mason Clark, ISW 15/10/19
Oct 16, 2019 - 10:46:30 AM

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The Kremlin is exploiting tensions in the Middle East and international platforms to promote a Russia-led Security Concept in the Persian Gulf. Senior Kremlin officials made a renewed pitch for the concept in early October 2019. The Kremlin is unlikely to realize this plan fully, but will use the process to expand Russia’s influence in the Gulf, as well as to frame Russia as an international mediator and a security guarantor.

The Kremlin is promoting the formation of a new Russia-led international security organization in the Gulf. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the concept on July 23.[1] The concept states that the ultimate objective is to create a “Security and Cooperation Organization in the Persian Gulf” that includes the Gulf countries, Russia, China, and other interested parties as members or observers. The Kremlin also invited the U.S. and E.U. to support its framing of Russia as a collaborative actor in contrast to the ‘obstructionist West.’ The Kremlin has outlined and is pursuing a step-by-step approach to the concept. The Kremlin seeks to (among other initiatives):

Form a regional counter-terrorism coalition under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The Kremlin will attempt to use an internationally legitimized counter-terrorism partnership to shape definitions of terrorism to support its own actions in the region, as it has previously done in Syria through the selective framing of anti-Bashar al Assad opposition groups as terrorists.

Coordinate information operations with Muslim-majority countries to counter terrorism – likely to support the Kremlin’s framing of the issue and to expand the Kremlin’s information influence in the Gulf. Public calls for coalition information operations might indicate an adaptation in the Kremlin’s information campaigns.

Establish consultation groups with regional and international stakeholders and develop an action group to drive the initiative. The Kremlin seeks to incorporate into its concept existing regional and international organizations, including the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League. The Kremlin likely assesses it will achieve greater buy-in by working with existing structures rather than in parallel.

Host an international conference on security cooperation in the Gulf. The Kremlin often uses the mechanism of international forums to advance its objectives. It is currently pursuing a similar model of a series of condition-setting meetings before holding a large-scale regional summit on Africa.[2]

Gradually develop arms control agreements, establish demilitarized zones, and reduce the international military presence in the region. These initiatives likely have a long-term intent to weaken the U.S. posture in the region and to establish zones to protect Russia’s regional partner Iran.

Ultimately establish a “Security and Cooperation Organization in the Persian Gulf.”

The Kremlin has conducted a deliberate campaign to build international support for its concept since late July 2019. China expressed public support for the initiative on July 26.[3] The Kremlin distributed the concept at the UNSC and UN General Assembly on July 29, and urged the UNSC to discuss the concept on August 21.[4] Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif welcomed the Russian concept on September 2.[5] The Kremlin held a roundtable on the Security Concept in Moscow on September 25, claiming around 30 experts from Russia, France, the UK, Gulf Arab-majority countries, India, and China participated.[6]

The Kremlin increased its push for the Security Concept in early October, exploiting regional tensions and the international platform of the Valdai Club, a key annual Russian foreign policy conference. Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov emphasized the need to implement the Kremlin’s Gulf Security Concept during their speeches to the Valdai Club on October 3.[7] Lavrov referred to the initiative indirectly during his visit to Iraq amid protests on October 7 as a method to “defuse tensions” in the Persian Gulf.[8] Putin also mentioned the concept in an interview with Saudi media outlets on the eve of his second ever visit to Saudi Arabia on October 13.[9] The Kremlin will continue to promote the Security Concept and begin to set conditions for its desired first steps toward a regional counter-terrorism coalition and regional consultation groups.

The Kremlin likely views the process of promoting the concept as an end in itself. The Kremlin does not need to achieve the unlikely end state of a new security organization in the Gulf to strengthen its presence as a legitimized actor in the Middle East. The Kremlin’s stated goal of a new security organization in the Gulf is, at best, unrealistic in the short term. It may not even intend to achieve this goal in the near future. The Kremlin tries to cast itself as an internationally legitimized security guarantor.[10] Russia lacks American influence and presence in the broader Middle East. Russia’s close ties with Iran and the Assad regime in Syria hampers its outreach in the region. The Kremlin will leverage the process of promoting the concept – growing regional counter-terrorism cooperation, negotiating arms control agreements, expanding access to the region’s information space, and convening regional working groups – to expand its influence in the Gulf. The Kremlin is attempting to take the initiative in the region by establishing control of the narrative on regional security, rather than responding to Western initiatives such as the U.S.-led Anti-ISIS Coalition and the U.S.-led maritime security mission in the Gulf.[11]

The Kremlin’s outreach to the West and other international actors also sets Russia up for a ‘win-win’ outcome, even if it cannot secure broad support for its concept. The Kremlin is managing to secure preliminary interest from major international actors, including India and China. The Kremlin will achieve its objectives by successfully including these actors in what amounts to an anti-U.S. partnership even if Russia fails to establish itself in the Gulf to the extent it aspires to. Lavrov stated that Russia is against U.S. “privatization” of security in the Gulf. Russia is already framing U.S. efforts in the region as “anti-collaborative” and unnecessarily focused on Iran.[12] If the Kremlin manages to secure even minimal buy-in, it will frame itself as a viable international mediator and a cohering force. If the Kremlin is able to enlist some but not all Western states in its efforts, as it has with France in Syria, it will be able to sharpen divides between the U.S. and its allies.[13] If the West declines to join the Kremlin’s initiative – which is the most likely scenario – the Kremlin strengthens its narrative of an ‘obstructionist West.’

The Kremlin perceives an opportunity to expand its reach in the Gulf at a moment when the U.S. appears to be disengaging from the Middle East following its Syria withdrawal announcement. The Kremlin sees a similar opening to advance its objectives in Eastern Europe.[14] The Kremlin will continue to exploit the White House’s desire to pull back from the Middle East to grow its influence in the Gulf and support malign actors including the Assad regime and Iran.

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[1] [“Russian Concept of Collective Security in the Persian Gulf,”] Russian MFA, July 23, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/international_safety/conflicts/-/asset_publisher/xIEMTQ3OvzcA/content/id/3733575.
[2] Darina Regio, “Russia in Review: Africa Campaign Update,” Institute for the Study of War, July 18, 2019, http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2019/07/russia-in-review-africa-campaign-update.html; Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio, “The Kremlin’s Campaign in Africa: Assessment Update,” Institute for the Study of War, August 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20-%20The%20Kremlin%20Campaign%20in%20Africa%20-%20August%202019.pdf.
[3] Abhishek Bhaya, “China Backs Russian Plan for 'Collective Security' in Persian Gulf,” CGTN, July 26, 2019, https://news.cgtn((.))com/news/2019-07-26/China-backs-Russian-plan-for-collective-security-in-Persian-Gulf-IDEJRWKHLy/index.html.
[4] “Russia Presents to UN its Concept of Collective Security in the Persian Gulf,” TASS, July 29, 2019, https://tass((.))com/world/1070933; “Russia Calls on UN Security Council to Discuss Gulf Security Concept,” RG, August 21, 2019, https://rg((.))ru/2019/08/21/rf-prizvala-sb-oon-obsudit-koncepciiu-bezopasnosti-v-persidskom-zalive.html.
[5] [“Zarif: Iran Welcomes the Russian Concept of Security in the Persian Gulf,”] TASS, September 2, 2019, https://tass((.))ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/6832380.
[6] [“Speech and Answers to the Questions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Session on Russian Politics in the Middle East of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2019,”] Russian MFA, October 2, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3826083.
[7] [“Speech and Answers to the Questions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Session on Russian Politics in the Middle East of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2019,”] Russian MFA, October 2, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3826083; [“Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club,”] Kremlin, October 3, 2019, http://kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/61719.
[8] [“Statement to the Media by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S.V. Lavrov Following Negotiations with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iraq M.Hakim, Baghdad, October 7, 2019,”] Russian MFA, October 7, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/iq/-/asset_publisher/WizNA2SGNvS5/content/id/3836701.
[9] [“Interview for Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic,”] Kremlin, October 13, 2019, http://www.kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/61792.
[10] Frederick W. Kagan, Nataliya Bugayova, and Jennifer Cafarella, “Confronting the Russian Challenge: A New Approach for the U.S.,” Institute for the Study of War, June 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20CTP%20Report%20-%20Confronting%20the%20Russian%20Challenge%20-%20June%202019.pdf.
[11] [“Speech and Answers to the Questions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Session on Russian Politics in the Middle East of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2019,”] Russian MFA, October 2, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3826083.
[12] [“Speech and Answers to the Questions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Session on Russian Politics in the Middle East of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2019,”] Russian MFA, October 2, 2019, http://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3826083.
[13] “France and Russia Pound ISIS Targets in Syria,” Newsweek, November 17, 2015, https://www.newsweek.com/france-and-russia-pound-isis-targets-syria-395732.
[14] Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: Putin Advances in Ukraine and its Neighboring States,” Institute for the Study of War, October 15, 2019, http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2019/10/russia-in-review-putin-advances-in.html.


Source:Ocnus.net 2019

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