GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Evolution of the US Foreign Policy on the Persian Gulf: Implications for Russian Diplomacy in the Region
Paper Proposal Text :
Since recently, analysts have been arguing about changes in US foreign policy. According to some representatives of American expert society, Washington gradually becomes more pragmatic and less straightforward regarding its approaches. They believe that, in future, the US will be more inclined to implement the strategy of “restrained power" which implies the usage of force and coercion only when and where it is really needed.
Within the framework of this approach America is expected to reassess its foreign policy towards the Persian Gulf. Thus, in accordance with new priorities, Iran acquires special importance: the involvement of Tehran in Afghan and Syrian affairs as well as the readiness of the Islamic republic under President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the issue of the nuclear program makes the US interested in the dialogue with the Islamic Republic on certain topics. At the same time, growing energy independence of the United States, Washington intention to bridge relations with Tehran as well as American decision to refuse from the usage of force against Bashar Assad create certain ground for Washington split with its traditional allies – the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf.
This evolution of US approaches towards the Gulf region can influence the foreign policy of another non-regional player, the Russian Federation. Like Washington, Moscow is reassessing its regional priorities. However, as opposed to the US, the Russian authorities have recently acquired grater interest in the region. Not the last role in this case was played by the events of the Arab spring. If, before 2011, Russia considered the region to be of the secondary importance within the framework of Moscow global diplomatic doctrine, the Arab Sprig lucidly demonstrated that in order to secure Russian national interests Kremlin needs to be more active in developing its relations with the regional countries. Moreover, the revolutionary events changed the general Russian perception of the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries. By 2013, they were not seen as just another trading item in the relations of Moscow with the US and EU or a chessboard where Russia and the West were playing their games: the Arab spring made Russia regard them as independent players on the international arena with their own tasks and priorities and deal with them as equals.
Under these circumstances, potential division between the US and GCC may create new opportunities for Russia whose authorities have been unsuccessfully trying to increase their presence in the Arab part of the Persian Gulf since 2003. The rumors about the American withdrawal from the region compelled Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners to look for other non-regional countries capable to compensate the future decrease in American presence. As a result, certain attention was paid to Moscow, and, in spite of all existing contradictions, the members of the GCC were compelled to maintain the dialogue with Russia. The visit of Saudi prince Bandar Bin Sultan to Moscow on 31 July 2013 and the meeting of Putin with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on 16 – 17 September 2013 are, probably, the most notorious examples of this. As mentioned by analysts, in spite of existing contradictions, Moscow and the GCC members have certain topics for constructive dialogue including not only bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy and space as well as military sphere but regional political stability. For instance, in November 2013, the Saudis expressed their will to help the Egyptian authorities to buy Russian weapons in order to compensate the decrease in US munitions supply to Cairo. Both for the Russians and Saudis this deal is supposed to improve the positions of the Egyptian secular authorities and, thus, lead to the stabilisation of the situation in this republic.
Yet, the reassessment of the US priorities in the Gulf region may also be a challenge for Russia. First of all, it is related to the Syrian issue. The exclusion of Syria from the sphere of the American national interests in the Middle East means that, probably, Washington will stop playing the role of the force restraining the efforts of the Gulf Arabs aimed to support and supply the Syrian opposition. Obviously, this is not in the interests of Moscow. Russia will also be hypothetically compelled to deal directly with the supporters of the Syrian rebels from the Persian Gulf without much hope to draw the Americans in this dialogue. Given that the Russians are unable to have influence on the GCC equal to that of the US, the chances of Moscow to succeed in its talks with the Gulf Monarchies on this issue are low.
The potential improvement of the US relations with Iran is another issue. Russian experts and policymakers traditionally believe that the beginning of the normalization of the US-Iranian dialogue will inevitably lead to Tehran’s distancing from Moscow. Taking into account the involvement of Iran in the regional affairs (including that of related to the situation in the Caucasus and Central Asia), Kremlin does not want the Islamic republic to fall out of the sphere of Russian influence. However, the authorities of Russia have already got signals from Tehran that the window of opportunities for the further development of Russo-Iranian friendly relations may be closed: in the mid-August 2013, Putin’s visit to the IRI was cancelled by the Iranian side. Subsequently, Moscow was compelled to intensify its foreign policy on the Iranian direction. Yet, there are no guarantees that these efforts will bring long-lasting results.
All in all, the evolution of the US foreign policy is able to change the geometry of political relations in the Persian Gulf region. These changes, in turn, are capable to present Russia with new challenges and opportunities that can either strengthen Moscow positions in the region or weaken them.