In our understanding, Russia is following Duplex Strategy having two phases to revive its role in the Asian continent. In the first phase, Moscow is focusing on Central Asia and the Middle East as these regions are direct in contact with it geographically. In the second phase, Russia has to focus on South and South East Asia, where the pattern of alliances has already been shifted.
The First Phase has already begun and can be observed contemporarily due to Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin since 2000, Moscow has become a re-emerging power at both regional and global level. Though the position it has may not be where it was at peak of Cold War, but it is immensely influencing the global affair.
Re-emerging as a strong contender in global affairs, Putin has focused on its Middle East policy by taking bold military steps against the intervention in Syria. This reinvigorated that Russia's Middle East ties are its geopolitical aspirations related to its periphery and has caught many by surprise.
During its long history of involvement in the region, Russia previously known as the Soviet Union gained much foothold during Suez Crisis in the Middle East, where they supplied arms to the Egyptian government beginning in 1955, and helped them built Aswan Dam on Nile River after the United States (U.S.) withdrew its offer. Arab customers still remember those days when they use to cooperate with USSR regarding infrastructure, industry, training and weapons.
Russia is yet again trying to reach out Middle Eastern markets especially those related to defence commodities. After the effective air operation against Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) in Syria, Moscow is willing to preserve its position as major arms exporter to the region. According to Nikolay Kozhanov of Chatham House, Russia is not only to concentrate on trade benefits but also engaged in exertions on geopolitics regarding the Middle East.
However, recently the decision taken by Putin to intervene in Syria’s civil war has given a view that Russia is still there to replace dominant outside power (U.S) in the region. While viewing it from Putin’s perspective, this escapade looks like something diverse, which is an overdue re-occurrence to geopolitical aspirations that stretch back not to slant Soviet era of developing relations with U.S. friends and foes like Iran, Israel etc.
Interestingly, the diplomatic manoeuvring of Russia by placing itself at the centre of Middle East’s civil war crisis, has received notable results, such as preventing the collapse of Assad’s regime which seemed an imminent year ago. As said by Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the country’s leading Sunni politician. “Russia sent a message to the Middle East with its direct intervention in Syria: We are more serious in settling the region’s problems than the Americans are,”
Meanwhile, Turkey is blaming the U.S. for being a facilitator behind the recent failed coup attempt. Keeping this development in mind, Ankara is reassessing its foreign policy objectives. In this scenario, if Russia and Turkey will collectively reach a deal, then it will be a checkmate to the U.S. and the rebels in Syria.
So far First Phase of Duplex Strategy is harbouring the desired results for Moscow. But most imperative phase (Second Phase) is yet to be commenced in which Russia has to reconsider its slant concerning South Asia. It is the region in which the U.S. has already overextended its tentacles to create an alliance against Russia and China. The U.S. wants sidekicks in the region to pursue its interests and India is offering her services in this regards.
Meanwhile, Washington is constantly disengaging from Pakistan and in this process, Moscow can find a number of areas to cooperate with Islamabad to redefine the alliance structure in South Asia. This rapprochement can be seen when we consider Russian team holds talks with Pakistan on the sale of military hardware and both countries conducted first-ever joint military drills. But two countries are in no urgency and trying to buckle up in cautious mode.
Nowadays, Russian diplomacy is moving into a higher gear and she is trying to maintain a policy in order to establish an approachable traction from the Middle East to South East Asia. In this regard, China has already offered Russia an alliance against NATO. In coming years Russia is definitely going to assess that its East vs. West now.
About the authors:
Hasan Ehtisham is a M. Phil scholar in Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Usman Ali Khan is an Islamabad-based freelance writer with an MSc in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University