On March 30, the Valdai Discussion Club, in partnership with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, opened its 10th Middle East Conference. The discussions held during the first day of the conference conveyed several important messages.
First, the Middle East will continue on as a strategic pivot to the great powers and a key priority on the international agenda. The strategic competition among the great powers, the United States, Russia and China, still exists, with different mechanisms that make it radically different from what it was during the Cold War. The Middle East is an important region not only for Russia, but for all of the great powers. The return of tension between Washington and both Moscow and Beijing over a wide range of international and regional issues that have witnessed both structural and strategic contradictions has increased the importance of the region. The US is at the heart of this escalation.
The United States has been redefining and reformulating its interests in the Middle East since it entered the global energy market as an exporter. The formation of Biden’s presidential team responsible for foreign policy reflected his awareness of the region’s importance, and his determination to reactivate the US role in it as part of his general orientation toward restoring the US role globally under the slogan “America is back”. His priorities include curbing Russian influence in the region. This comes at a time when the Russian presence and influence in the Middle East is increasing. The region is also a cornerstone of China’s “Belt and Road” project. So, it is the best point for Washington to impede the global rise of China.
The vision and priorities of the three powers in the Middle East are different. A hegemonic perspective continues to dominate US policy towards the Middle East. Washington is interested in what has been called “creative chaos”. On the other hand, Russian policy is based on a constructive partnership in various fields, on the basis of mutual interests. Moscow takes an active interest in stability and the peaceful settlement of all disputes in the region, as does China. The realisation of the Chinese dream, the “Belt and Road”, depends basically on peace and stability in the Middle East.
Second, the international rivalry is accompanied by another strategic rivalry between the regional triangle powers, Iran, Turkey and Israel. Each has its own agenda. That leads to the intensification of regional tension and conflicts, as well as the return of proxy wars and regional polarisation on regional issues.
Third, the Middle East region is badly in need of an “awakening”. Over the past decade, many crises have deepened at both the domestic and regional levels. Political and security challenges have increased dramatically. The deterioration of economic, political and social conditions has worsened, especially since the COVID-19 crisis. Chaos hit many countries in the region, especially Syria, Libya and Yemen. Terrorism has grown in a dangerous way, forming a belt of fire across the region, stretching from Idlib in the east, through Somalia in the south, to Libya in the west. Getting out of this crushing chasm requires an “awakening” at the national level as well as international and regional cooperation between all the active and influential forces. That is an inevitable choice, lest everyone slide past the point of no return.