*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Political analyst Alexander Vedrussov on the perennial rivalry between Russia and the U.S. in the historically turbulent Middle East region.
During the Cold War, the Middle East was an area of intense confrontation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The American efforts focused primarily on Israel. On the other hand, the Soviets courted the Arab states. At certain moments, the rivalry reached a dangerous point. For example, on Oct. 25, 1973, the U.S., fearing a direct Soviet military intervention in another Arab-Israeli war, put its select armed forces on high alert (DEFCON 3). Fortunately, the reincarnation of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the Middle East never happened. However, the potential for conflict in the region was and still is relatively high.
The destructive desire of the U.S. to divide the Middle East into warring factions only exacerbates the situation. During his summer tour of the region, American President Joe Biden immediately clarified who should be the enemies of Washington’s allies: “The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons.” It is noteworthy that the last Republican U.S. president, Donald Trump, whom Democrats literally criticize for everything, thought along the same lines. Except that he articulated his love for Israel and his dislike for Iran without any awkward hesitation.
The problem is that preserving the non-nuclear status of Iran requires reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran justifiably demands certain security assurances and the lifting of sanctions in exchange for cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear program. But first Trump and now Biden have consistently chosen confrontation over conflict settlement.
At the cost of potentially destabilizing the Middle East, the U.S. is solving the current problem of preserving its withering influence in the region. Unable to offer their allies a constructive agenda, the Americans act on the principle of provoking a conflict in any unclear situation. A confrontation with the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese — depending on the circumstances.
It seems that Jake Sullivan’s statements about Tehran’s plans to supply Moscow with up to several hundred drones were made for this very purpose. It is no coincidence that Biden’s National Security Advisor stressed that Russia allegedly requested Iran’s hardware and weapons used in the attacks on Saudi Arabia. But, of course, Sullivan did not have any evidence to support his claims. This kind of jab at Moscow and Riyadh is unlikely to get him anywhere. But, as they say, it does not hurt to try.
The rapprochement of Saudi Arabia with Russia and China alarmed the Americans so much that Biden was forced to pay an official visit to the country, which he had previously called a pariah. It seems that the White House decided that it was better to lose face than to lose control over the strategically crucial Arab monarchy. “Its waterways are essential to global trade and the supply chains we rely on. Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Biden reassured his compatriots.
The problem is that Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the region are unlikely to be able to give the Americans what they are so insistently seeking. Even if they wanted to. Suppose Biden’s unrivaled eloquence works. Then, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agrees to release all the oil that is technically possible to produce now in the peninsula to the markets. It will take at most a few weeks to reach the upper end of the oil production limits set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries+ agreement and even exceed them. During that period, the price of black gold will most likely drop somewhat. But what will happen next?
It seems that the Americans simply do not understand that they cannot simply increase oil production on a whim. Tomorrow the money invested in oil production and transportation may simply become wasted because the West will again rush to the side of renewable energy at the expense of hydrocarbons. The inconsistency of the Americans and their bad habit of unilaterally resolving fundamental issues make any agreement with the U.S. as shaky as the quicksand of the Arabian desert.
That is why Saudi Arabia intends to continue making decisions regarding oil production within the framework of the OPEC+ agreements and in cooperation with Russia. Of course, Riyadh is still heavily dependent on arms supplies from Washington, so it cannot completely ignore its interests. But this does not mean that the Saudis are willing to sacrifice relations with Moscow to urgently quench the Americans’ oil thirst.
While the U.S. is actively forging an anti-Iran coalition in the region, Russia, on the contrary, is seeking to upgrade relations with Iran to a fundamentally higher level — from the development of the North-South international transport corridor to technological cooperation and the incorporation of Iranian banks into Russia’s financial messaging system in the face of Western sanctions. The continuing agenda of Moscow and Tehran’s cooperation is filled with geopolitical, commercial and economic items.
So far, progress has been modest. The current trade turnover between Russia and Iran is only $4 billion. Still, by the end of this year, it is expected to reach $10 billion. On July 14, the president of Russia signed a law ratifying the protocol to the interim agreement leading to a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran. Strategic cooperation between Russia and Iran helps them overcome sanctions more effectively.
In recent years, Moscow has managed to acquire a reputation in the region as a partner that keeps its word. This is very much appreciated in the Middle East.
The author is the head of the StrategPRO think tank. The author’s position may not reflect the views of Izvestia’s editorial board.