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Research Questions

  1. What are the elements of Russian interests in the Middle East beyond Syria?
  2. What is the nature of Russian engagement in the region?
  3. What is Russia's strategy in the Middle East?

While the literature on Russia in the Middle East is extensive, recent analysis has understandably focused on Syria, giving less attention to Moscow's relations with other countries in the region. As of late 2016, this lack of focus on Russian activity in the broader Middle East had left the important question of Moscow's regional strategy and longer-term intent all but unaddressed. This Perspective seeks to identify the important elements of Russian interests in the Middle East beyond Syria, to define the nature of Russian engagement in the region, and to describe the contours of a Russian strategy in the Middle East. Russia has goals, but to Western observers they appear to be either transactional or, in the longer term, generalizable to the point that they constitute broad precepts rather than global, regional, or state-specific strategies. This perception is at least partly accurate. The authors contend that while Russia may not have a clear ends-driven regional strategy, its actions suggest it is applying a generalized, functional strategy: It constantly seeks to improve its short-term economic, military, and political advantages while reducing the short-term advantages of prospective adversaries.

Key Findings

  • Russia may not have a clear ends-driven regional strategy; it constantly seeks to improve its short-term economic, military, and political advantages while reducing the short-term advantages of prospective adversaries.
  • Russia promotes its ability to interact with many state and nonstate actors in the Middle East; most of Moscow's relationships are best characterized as transactional and are bounded by "insurmountable obstacles."
  • Middle East states use Russia as an alternative and a signal to the West.
  • Russia is making a concerted effort to reclaim its role as the arms supplier of choice for Arab governments.
  • Russia seeks to be able to effectively influence and shape outcomes, but a lack of means limits what it can achieve. The Middle East states have the greatest power and agency to determine the viability of any Russian strategy.
  • Russia's multifaceted diplomatic relations and recent interventionist trend are likely to be superseded by longer-term economic, energy, and arms deals.

Research conducted by

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding for this venture was provided by philanthropic contributions from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Center for Middle East Public Policy.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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