13th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club. Session 3. From the Middle East to Central Eurasia: an Arc of Instability or a Space for Joint Action?
Sochi, Russia
List of speakers

During the 13th annual Valdai Club meeting’s third session, titled "From the Middle East to Central Eurasia: the arc of instability or a space for joint action?" experts discussed the array of reasons for the considerable flare-up of the situation in the Middle East.

According to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Alexander Aksenyonok, in the 21st century, national, regional and global security are so closely intertwined that the destabilization of the situation in one state or group of states can threaten and countries not directly connected to the war zone.

The debate’s first question was that of the legitimacy of the intervention of third-party players in the settlement of regional conflicts. A wide variety of points of view were expressed, from those of Iran's Ambassador to the Russian Federation Mehdi Sanaei on the need to resolve the situation only at the regional level, to those of Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış, who called for the coordination of efforts of international the community and international organizations to create a global coalition against terrorism.

Considering the close religious and cultural relationship of Central Asia and the Middle East, Muratbek Imanaliev, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan and former Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization suggested the idea of ​​creating a Central Asian conference, which would take on the role of mediator in the resolution of regional conflicts.

The cause of the arc of instability from the Middle East to Central Eurasia, according to the participants, was the US’ decision to enact regime change against regimes that dissatisfied it. Despite the lessons of Iraq and Libya, the clear threat that such regime change scenarios pose for the whole macro-region, similar processes have been launched to Syria. Because of regional specifics, strong political will has always been the guarantor of stability in the Middle East. According to Mehdi Sanaei, today, the international community can observe entire territories without state institutions in this region, and that terrorism and radicalism are not the causes and consequences of this situation.

Yaşar Yakış noted that the situation is also heating up because unresolved conflicts continue to smolder and occasionally flare up with renewed vigor. Such conflicts include the Arab-Israeli, as well as the civil war in Yemen. One of the topics most discussed was the Russian-American cooperation in the settlement of the conflict in Syria and the Middle East as a whole. According to Clifford Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, an inability to co-ordinate between the actions of these major actors in the region exacerbates the conflict, which leads to a humanitarian catastrophe. Several experts repeatedly stressed the idea of ​​the need for strict adherence to international agreements and the wrongfulness of the two sides’ mutual accusations of one another without concrete facts to back them up.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that the question of separating Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists from the moderate opposition in Syria was discussed by the Russians and Americans for many months at different levels, by the presidents of the two countries as well as with representatives of the State Department, the CIA and Pentagon. Bogdanov also said that if requests are made by the Libyan or Iraqi government for Russian participation in anti-terrorist operations on their territory, the Russian government will carefully consider such requests.

Participants came to the conclusion that despite the many different levels of discussions on a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, a consensus that would end existing contradictions still does not exist. Parties should continue negotiations as they seek for joint solutions, basing them on fairness and mutual respect.