The potential for interaction between Russia and the United States in the Middle East was the topic of an expert discussion, which was held on December 15, 2017, at the Valdai Discussion Club.
The United States remains the most influential participant in regional processes, but recently Washington began to reconsider gradually its priorities in the Middle East and depart from the classical model of military presence. Instead, the Americans try to build relations with allies and adversaries in a way to minimize the expenditures for the region. However, despite the desire to withdraw from the region, the United States cannot yet do so because of the lack of a force that could take the lead in the Middle East.
Russia recently returned to the region, for the first time as a capable player in the military field. It also seeks to build relations with all major regional centers. Its goal is to create an inclusive security system in the Middle East. For Russia, diplomatic decisions are now important, which will not allow the devaluation of military successes.
The experts stated that presently the Arab world is falling apart; it is in a state of chaos. Turkey and Iran are fighting for regional dominance. The US is trying to find partners that would ensure stability. Russia is also balancing between the countries of the region, supporting Iran in order to prevent the strengthening of Turkey on the one hand, and establishing relations with Saudi Arabia in order to limit Iran's influence on the other.
According to Jacob Shapiro, Director of Analysis for Geopolitical Futures, GPF, in the next 5-10 years the interests of the United States and Russia in the Middle East will be similar: namely, to prevent domination by one country in the Middle East, global one or regional, and to ensure political and social stability in this very volatile region of the world. The question is whether the two powers are able to overcome differences in order to form a favorable agenda for the settlement of regional problems.
According to the American expert, a positive example is the victory over the ISIS (banned in Russia), which, as he said, could be hardly possible without cooperation between the military of Russia and the United States. He also recalled the positive experience of cooperation coordination, accumulated by the US and the USSR during the Cold War. Syria, where the two countries have a hotline for communication to prevent possible collisions, can help revive this experience. Jacob Shapiro stressed, that for this region there are no simple solutions, so the actors need to use the classical system of balance of power.
Maxim Suchkov, editor of Al-Monitor, agreed that the interests of Russia and the United States in the field of regional security coincide. However, he expressed doubts about the likelihood of any deals between the two countries, given the current US investigation over Russia's interference in the electoral process in that country and related scandals.
Predicting the situation in the Middle East, where the main focus in 2017 was the fight against ISIS, the experts believe that in 2018 the central role will be given to Iran. This regional power is now in a favorable position and will try to take advantage of this to spread its influence in the region.
The participants also predicted China's big role in the economic recovery of Syria. This is due to the fact, that neither the US nor Russia want to bear the entire burden of the costs to rebuild this ruined country.
At the same time Maxim Suchkov drew attention to the complexity of any forecasts of the situation in the Middle East, because the countries of the region not always act rationally.