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Moscow’s Motives—Why Russia Influences the Middle East

August 1, 2013
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Russia and Prophecy

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Russia is such a big player in the Middle East. According to the interpretation of some—including author Joel Rosenberg—the book of Ezekiel predicts that Russia will be part of a massive Middle Eastern war. In Ezekiel 38–39, a powerful nation known as “Magog” leads a plethora of Middle Eastern states against Israel. Rosenberg, author of a number of prophetic novels, said in a post to his blog that Magog appears to be Russia. He cites historical and geographical reasons as to why, including the belief that the Magog people migrated to modern Russia. If he’s right, then Russia is bound to lead a coalition of Islamic nations, including Iran, in a war with Israel.

Of course, Russia isn’t involved in the Middle East just to fulfill a biblical prophecy. Rather, the prophecy predicts Russia will be involved in the Middle East. And Russia is setting itself up nicely to do just that. Here’s why.

Russia and Oil

Ocean tugs tow drilling rigs off the coast of Russia. Stanislav Komogorov/Shutterstock.com

The Middle East is famous for oil. In fact, war has been fought over the oil resources in the region. Ironically, it is the wars in the Middle East that threaten and jeopardize the oil trade there. In other words, war is bad for the oil markets in the Middle East, and ultimately bad for your wallet at the gasoline pump. Therefore, it’s understandable that most of the West considers conflict in the Middle East to be a concern—at least the ones that are not about oil. So the US keeps a close eye on the region and keeps pushing for peaceful negotiation or speedy resolution to most of the Middle Eastern conflicts, so as to reduce the damage done to the oil prices.

Russia, however, is different. While the US and Europe have in the past been largely dependent on oil in the Middle East to keep prices lower, Russia is a major oil producer. They sell barrels of the stuff, literally. And that means that higher prices for oil are actually good for Russia. Re-read that: high oil prices are good for Russia. So if a Middle Eastern conflict gets stoked a little longer—such as the Syrian civil war—and that were to lead to a rise in oil prices, Russia comes out ahead. Is there any wonder why Russia keeps selling and delivering weapons to nasty regimes and supports troublemakers? If that weren’t enough, it turns out Russia has something major in common with the antagonists in the Middle East: they all oppose the United States.

Russia and the US


Of course, the logic of the situation needs some explaining. Why would Russia send arms to Libya or Syria because they oppose the US? Well, Russia and the US were archenemies in the Cold War, and to this day any nation that wants to be the world’s top superpower has to surpass the US. Russia may no longer be Soviet, but that doesn’t mean its ambitions are entirely different than what they were 30 years ago. Russia still wants to be a major world power. So, if some nations such as Syria and Iran oppose the US and its allies in the region, the enemy of Russia’s enemy is its friend.

The Arab Spring has brought down a Russian ally in Libya and threatened a key friend in Syria. That means some things may need to change for Russia. But don’t expect their rivalry with the US to be one of those changes. Expert Zvi Magen, a research fellow with the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), wrote in a report that while Russia is considering new approaches to the region, the old motive remains. “Russia has no intention of conceding its competition with the West in order to enhance its international status,” Magen said in “Russia and the Middle East: Policy Challenges.” “Therefore, competition between the powers is expected to continue and even intensify—at least in the foreseeable future; this will also, or possibly especially, be manifested in the Middle East.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Moscow www.wikipedia.org /Ammar Abd Rabbo

This has been shockingly obvious in Syria. While the US has shown reluctance to openly arm the rebels in the Syrian civil war—despite supporting their cause—Russia has not only sent the Syrian regime weapons, it has threatened to send them advanced weapons. Among those is the sophisticated S-300 air defense system that would significantly upgrade Syria’s defense against planes and missiles. This development has the US concerned, and Israel alarmed.

Furthermore, Russia has helped the Iranians and ultimately played both sides in the Iranian nuclear dispute. If there was ever a nation that deserved to be universally ostracized, it’s Iran. Sponsor of global terrorism, seeking nuclear weapons and the missiles to shoot them…the list goes on and on. Yet there’s Russia helping Iran build a (peaceful) nuclear power plant. There’s Russia dragging its feet on sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. Russia hasn’t jumped headfirst in its assistance to Syria and Iran by giving them everything right off the bat, but their support for the brutal and vicious Syrian and Iranian dictatorships defies humanity and logic—unless your logic is opposing the US and its allies. If that’s the case, supporting Syria and Iran makes perfect sense.

Russia and Politics

Of course, Russia is first and foremost in the region for Russia. That means its allegiances may vary when necessary. In fact, Magen points out that Russia can play both sides of a conflict to boost its own position. Oddly enough, while befriending both sides, it is able to provide mediation between them. For example, Russia is one of the few world superpowers to embrace Hamas, and yet they also have ties to Israel. Contradictory? Perhaps, but it’s succeeding so far. In fact, Magen notes that while the final outcome of the Arab Spring is unclear, “the Russian method is working, since each and every entity is concerned that Russia will abandon it and take its enemy’s side.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov effectively said the same thing about Syria in an interview with CBS. While trying to claim their support is only for those who want to end the fighting, Lavrov noted in a transcript of the interview posted by his office that “we were also told that we had lost the Arab world. Well, come to put mildly that this is wrong, because…probably, we’re the only country who works with all spectrums of the Syrians, including all groups of the opposition.” Of course, he denied the argument that Russia is actually backing the regime. Still, his claim to be accessible to both sides reinforces the idea that Russia wants most of all to win—and is willing to work with anyone who will help them do that.

Putin with Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi www.wikipedia.org /www.kremlin.ru

This flip-flop of loyalty was best seen in Libya. After backing the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya for decades and arming the brutal dictator, Russia actually accepted some of the international opposition to Gaddaffi that ultimately led to the no-fly zone and American and European involvement. Of course, Russia has acted appalled at the end result, but they nonetheless were a party to the process. That’s one reason Russia has backed Syria so strongly—they are openly worried another Libya is about to happen. Still, Libya proves that Russia really is in it for Russia. No allegiance is truly safe. Of course, Magen also notes that Russia is reaching a point where they will have to choose sides. And that brings us to one more key reason for Russia’s approach to the Middle East.

Russia and Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas Vasily Smirnov/Shutterstock.com

For all of Russia’s emotional, economic, and diplomatic reasons for its Middle Eastern involvement, survival may be the most basic concern. Russia, you see, has a very awkward relationship with Islam. The old USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] was atheist and sought to dominate the Islamic nations south of its borders. And so Russia waged a long and destructive war in Afghanistan against fighters who later became Al-Qaeda. Yet today, Russia supports Hamas and Iran—two exclusively Islamic groups that want religious states. Why?

Once again, Magen hits the nail on the head in his analysis: Russia supports Muslims that don’t fight them and opposes Muslims that attack Russia. The fact that both Islam and Russia dislike the US certainly helps things too. Magen said that prior to the Arab Spring, Russia’s approach had actually bought it peace from some Islamic groups and countries. In other words, placating Muslims abroad has defended Russia at home by reducing attacks from Islamic entities. While it remains to be seen how well that policy will continue, it’s a key reason why Russia backs so many Muslim states.

Seaport in Tartus, Syria www.wikipedia.org / Taras Kalapun

Furthermore, some of Russia’s involvement in the region gets back to good old strategy. A key reason to support Syria is because Syria provides Russia with an important port on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia’s sphere of military influence is significantly enhanced just because Syria lets them use that seaport. Lose the Syrian regime, and Russia might just lose that ease of access to the sea that lines the Middle East and southern Europe. If geography is not your thing, think of it this way: the Mediterranean Sea is a diplomatic shopping mall and the Syrian port is a storefront for Russia. It’s just easier to make sales and influence things from the inside, and Syria’s port is the easiest way Russia can get in.

Russia and Prophecy Revisited

So which of these reasons will lead Russia to launch a massive war with Israel? The oil and gas angle makes lots of sense—Israel has discovered its own and could threaten Russia’s economy. Might Russia strike at Israel to defeat a competitor and boost its own oil and gas industry? Similarly, Russia’s need to ally itself with anti-US Islamic states sets them up for a brutal fight with Israel, since ultimately most of those Islamic countries hate the Israelis at some level. While Magen believes Russia could actually improve relations with Israel, Moscow’s view on the Middle East sounds like quite the set up for Gog and Magog. Wrote Magen, “Russia views the region…that stretches from Pakistan to North Africa as a continuous Muslim sphere with the potential for political union under one leadership; it also views the nations of the region as its natural partners.”

Remember the Ezekiel prophecy: A northern nation known as Magog heads a host of Middle Eastern and African nations in a brutal war with Israel. If Magog truly is Russia, then the Russians already have a vision for just the alliance that has been prophesied. And maybe, just maybe, all of the above factors will combine to bring that into play. Russia—faced with economic and security fears at home, power hungry abroad, and naturally linking with nations that hate Israel—is quite poised to be Magog. In light of that, the US and others should eye Russia suspiciously. Because Moscow has plenty of reasons to cause trouble for Israel and the Middle East.

Source: By Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update

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