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Middle East

America is losing the Middle East

The countries of this region are drifting away from the U.S. and the West toward Russia and China. The obvious fact is that during Biden's presidency, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began to withdraw from U.S. influence. Just look at the refusal of these countries last March to hold telephone conversations with him! It was a serious flick on the nose to the carriers of American superpower idea – like our junior allies, where will they go? As it turned out, they will. They simply refused to increase oil production in time for the congressional elections, showing that they were not going to give the States such a gift, saving America from high oil prices. Riyadh, offended by Biden's statements that the KSA would become a rogue country after the murder of journalist Khashoggi, has defiantly turned its back on the U.S. and turned toward China. And sanctions on Russia's oil and gas sector have made the kingdom concerned about the future: will the Americans do the same to them? And the "oil for security" formula, which had been in effect between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for many years, has ceased to work. In addition, Riyadh, a Sunni on its own, having excluded Washington, went to a rapprochement with Shiite Iran, although for many years they openly considered each other enemies. Now, with Chinese mediation, the two countries have managed to resume diplomatic relations. The second strike against White House diplomacy was dealt by Russia, which mediated the rapprochement between Riyadh and Damascus. It should be recalled that since 2011, the Gulf countries (including the UAE and the KSA) supported the United States, which helped the rebels fighting against the Assad regime. But this year, their position has changed dramatically. President Bashar al-Assad paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia, and the question of Syria's return to the Arab League, from which it had been excluded, began to take shape. In addition, the Gulf states began to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey. All this clearly shows how the position of Washington is weakening in the region and that Russia and China are getting stronger. The calculation of the U.S. and the EU that after imposing unprecedented sanctions against Russia, including a ban on the purchase of its oil and gas, the Saudi-led OPEC countries will open the tap wider and the oil price will be comfortable for the Western world did not work. In addition, a struggle for logistics corridors has begun, and the U.S. is also defeated in this matter. After the January-February meetings of the defense ministers of Russia, China and Iran, a number of regulations on the use of strategically important transport routes have changed. For example, in the Strait of Hormuz, through which up to 80 percent of the transportation of hydrocarbons from the Middle East goes to the United States, Southeast Asia, Europe, Japan, India, and the Philippines, Iran has established its own rules. It has decided to selectively block tankers carrying oil products to Western countries. In April this year, for example, the Iranian Navy arrested a tanker with a cargo of Saudi oil bound for the United States and in May it detained a tanker flying the Panamanian flag. It should not be forgotten that China is building a railroad to Pakistan's deep-sea port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, where it has a naval base. That is, this port is under the administrative control of Pakistan, but in fact it is under the control of the Chinese Overseas Ports Holding Company. The Chinese naval base in the port of Gwadar easily blocks the Strait of Hormuz, and can also control the approaches to the Strait of Malacca, through which 20 percent of all world maritime trade goes. Blocking the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz would lead to a complete economic collapse in Europe and the United States. This is comparable to a nuclear strike on the economies of these countries. In addition, the freezing of Russian gold and foreign currency reserves, the disconnection of Russia from SWIFT showed everyone that at any time the U.S. can use this cudgel against other countries as well. And it has undermined faith in the dollar, leading to the creation of new alliances that trade in national currencies instead of euros and dollars. Russia accepts payment for its oil and gas in rubles and yuan. The Indians have begun to pay for Russian fuel in dirhams, and China in yuan and rubles. In other words, there are not only new political alliances independent of the West and the United States, but also economic alliances that use their own currencies for mutual settlements, which undermines the hegemony of the White House and demonstrates the new geopolitical reality of the modern world. A number of Middle Eastern countries – Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE – are partners focused on China, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In addition, the Saudis and Egyptians have expressed interest in joining BRICS, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Turkey is also interested in BRICS, despite the fact that the country is in alliance with the United States. So the U.S. sanctions against Russia and confrontation with China has caused their influence in the Middle East to fall considerably and generates new alliances, but without American patronage. Everyone is already "fed up" with the American leadership and punitive role, such as Turkey, which, after the purchase of the Russian S-400 system in violation of its NATO member status, was deprived by the Americans of the opportunity to buy F-35 fighter jets. Similarly, the UAE was punished by being cut off from the purchase of F-35 fighter jets for its unwillingness to cut ties with Beijing. And it seems that in the future this process of distancing oneself from America as a mentor will only increase. New alliances of countries trying to prioritize their own interests over obediently doing the bidding of the EU and the White House will begin to arise. And if we also take into account Africa, many countries of which have reoriented themselves toward China and rapprochement with Russia, it is quite obvious that a complete redrawing of the geopolitical map of the world is under way, and clearly not in favor of the White House. Suppose that quite a few more countries join the already existing alliances led by Russia and China. So the attempt to isolate Russia, to punish it with sanctions led to a completely opposite result.

Iran entered the Mediterranean Sea

Tehran has strengthened its relations with Lebanon and Syria through specific economic commitments. At the turn of April and May of this year it became obvious that Iran has finally achieved its most important strategic goal – access to the Mediterranean Sea. This was proved by the results of the visits of Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian to Lebanon and Iranian President Raisi to Syria. Let's start with Lebanon. Here Iranian diplomacy can be credited with at least three achievements. First, it seems that the country's main problem – the absence of a legitimate government and, above all, of a president – has been resolved. This was made possible by the normalization of relations between Tehran and Riyadh. So it is likely that in the near future the system of government and administration will be restored in Lebanon. And Iran will become the recognized guarantor of its stability (along with the KSA). For this future system to be effective, Iran has, secondly, strengthened and expanded its economic presence in Lebanon. Tehran had laid the foundations for this earlier, providing very tangible assistance to the Lebanese with fuel. Now the measures of emergency support are being replaced by long-term programs to restore the energy sector, infrastructure, etc. This means that the Iranians are beginning to deliberately conquer the Lebanese market and integrate the local economy into their strategy of economic expansion. And thirdly, the Iranian foreign minister made a gesture, the political and symbolic significance of which can hardly be overestimated: he visited the Lebanese-Israeli border and planted an olive tree there. The presence of such a high-ranking official of the "Ayatollah regime" on the Israeli border is unprecedented. This demonstrated that Iran is already on Israel's borders. Moreover, the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry does not fear for his security, which (among other things) means that Tel Aviv was aware of Amir Abdollahian's plans and guaranteed that there would be no "surprises." As for the olive tree, the symbol of peace, it can be taken as a symbol of the guarantees that Iran is willing to give if Israel accepts Iran's presence on its borders. In this connection, it is appropriate to recall the Lebanese-Israeli agreement on the delimitation of maritime borders, which was made possible by the positive stance of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. It can be argued that Iran has been able to "secure" a strong position in Lebanon and now expects all parties to respect this fact. However, the "Lebanese bridgehead" cannot be the ultimate goal of Iranian strategy. And here it is time to move on to President Raisi's visit to Damascus. This visit had been expected for a long time, almost since last autumn. There was much talk that its preparation was complicated by the deterioration of Iranian-Syrian relations, the tightening of the terms of economic aid to Damascus, etc. However, in any case, as a result the visit took place at a perfect moment. Judge for yourself: Israel is mired in internal political turmoil and lives under the fear of a "war on several fronts", while Europe has practically abandoned it and the US wants nothing to do with the current Tel-Aviv government. On the other hand, Turkey, already weakened by the February earthquake, is busy with the "fateful" presidential elections. In this campaign, the topic of Syria is extremely important: both President Erdogan and his rival Kılıçdaroğlu understand the need to normalize relations with Damascus and are targeting it in one way or another. But neither of them seems to be able to do anything at the moment. Finally, the Arabs, having set out to restore relations with Damascus, at the time of Raisi's visit (May 3) had not yet made a final decision on the return of the Syrian Arab Republic to the Arab League. Most importantly, they do not have a clear plan of action in Syria, especially in the economic sphere. Yes, they willingly express their desire to participate in the post-war revival of the "brotherly country," but they do not go beyond words. This was the backdrop of the Iranian president's visit, during which a number of documents were signed, firmly cementing the position of the IRI in the SAR: the export of goods and equipment, the supply of weapons and the creation of defense enterprises, the reconstruction of ports and the construction of a railway line from Iran to the Mediterranean coast, the restoration of energy facilities and infrastructure. Along with the Lebanese achievements, all this has confronted the region and the world with the fact that Iran has reached the Mediterranean Sea, and everyone will have to take it into account. This is a new geopolitical reality (note – unprecedented since the times of the Sassanid state). It is possible to integrate into it (it itself integrates into the Chinese strategy "One Belt, One Road"). But an attempt to change it is possible only by deciding on a major war.

Turkish elections: what should Russia expect?

Two candidates for the presidency of the Republic – two different ways to the future of Russia-Turkey relations. May 14 is a decisive day in the fate of Turkey, where the elections will show what path the Republic will take. It is not only important for Turkey – the results will affect the country's relations with Russia, the EU, the U.S., NATO, Syria, Ukraine, and even Armenia and Azerbaijan. I should point out right away: I am writing this commentary when only the preliminary results are known, but some conclusions can already be drawn as the ballots are processed. The final result of the vote count of 64,167,000 Turkish voters will be known today, May 15, and the official results will be known on March 19. ...At first, four presidential candidates were announced in the election race, but Muharrem Ince withdrew himself after a rather murky scandal with sexual overtones, which in a Muslim country is suicidal for a politician. And there are three of them left: 69-year-old Tayyip Erdogan, 74-year-old Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and 55-year-old Sinan Ogan. The latter had practically no chance of winning, but he is an interesting man, a graduate of MGIMO, he has lived in Azerbaijan for a long time, he has a PhD from Moscow State University, a former member of parliament, and a member of the Valdai Club. Erdogan has unique experience on his side, and he has something to show his voters from what he has achieved. On the other hand, there is some public dissatisfaction with his long tenure in power. Admittedly, under his rule Turkey has not only become a regional power, but a leading player in many geopolitical issues. Against Erdogan are his deteriorating health, reproaches for suppressing the opposition, a falling national currency, inflation, the consequences of the earthquake in February this year, which killed about 50 thousand people and uncovered some corruption in the country's construction industry. Erdogan's attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is also interesting: on the one hand, he is one of the guarantors of the grain agreement, on the other hand, he supplies his weapons to Ukraine, but he has not joined those who call for and participate in the political and economic isolation of Russia. Erdogan is guided in this case by absolute pragmatism, making excellent money from Russian gas and oil, making his country a major hub, and actively trying to become a key player in the organization of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. His main rival is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a candidate from six opposition parties. He is considered a pro-Western candidate who promises to return to a parliamentary republic, solve the Kurdish issue and declare rapprochement with the EU and the United States. It is indicative of his pro-Western position that just before the elections he made a bellicose statement accusing Russia, without giving any evidence, of trying to influence the elections in Turkey. The candidate wrote on Twitter in Turkish and Russian, addressing Russia: "Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, Deep Fake content and recordings that were exposed in this country yesterday. If you want our friendship to continue after May 15, keep your hands off the Turkish state. We still stand for cooperation and friendship." He immediately received a response from Erdogan, who offered to make public how Europe and America are trying to interfere in this election. Here are his words: "Now Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started to mock Russia as well. He said Russia had interfered in elections. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? What would you say if I told you that the United States, Britain, and Germany interfered in the elections [in Turkey]?" By the way, after that Kılıçdaroğlu avoided further discussion. According to preliminary opinion polls, it was clear that the struggle for the presidency would be hot. None of the candidates had an overwhelming majority before the elections began. Forty-three percent were ready to vote for Erdogan, while 42.5 percent were for his opponent. So sociologists did not rule out a second round of elections, which, according to Turkish law, should be held on May 28. Major cities were expected to be Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's electorate, but rural Turkey was for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It is enough to recall the mass demonstrations against Erdogan that took place in Istanbul. But one cannot ignore the fact that just before the elections Erdogan raised the salaries of civil servants by 45 percent, and there are about 700,000 of them in Turkey. And if one bears in mind that each of them has family members as well, and Turkish families are traditionally large, one can safely multiply this figure by at least four. So it turns out that Erdogan was able to attract the votes of another 3 million voters. While Erdogan's supporters are the Turkish people from the countryside, the rural population and the religious part, and Erdogan himself has pursued soft but Islamization throughout his years in power, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's supporters are the youth and women, who make up a large part of the population in Turkey. It is interesting how the candidates behaved during their voting. Erdogan arrived at the polling station with his wife and stood in a long line, and when they tried to let him go first, he refused, saying that everyone was equal at the ballot box. And then he started to hand out money to the children who had come with their parents. He gave out about 200 liras, which is not vote-bribing because children do not vote. But undoubtedly, this theatrical gesture was also intended to win the sympathy of the voters. It is true that children do not vote, but their parents do. Kılıçdaroğlu voted with his wife in Ankara and, according to a RIA Novosti correspondent, refused to answer his question whether he would participate in talks with Putin if he won the election. What might change if Tayyip Erdogan suddenly loses the election? What changes can be expected in the attitude of the Republic of Turkey towards Syria, the Karabakh conflict, Russia and Ukraine, and the countries of Central Asia? My guess is that there will be no dramatic changes, but Russia may not have such a relationship of trust as it now has with Erdogan. But there is no need to say that there will be a breakup, because the economic ties between Russia and Turkey are too close and mutually beneficial. Joining the sanctions against Russia would severely damage the Turkish economy, which is weakened enough in the current situation. After processing 100% of the ballots, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the leader. He has 49.24 percent. His rival Kılıçdaroğlu has 45.06 percent. At the same time, the independent Turkish agency ANKA, as well as a number of opposition representatives, reported that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was ahead of Erdogan. In any case, none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes, which means that we are waiting for the second round, which will be held on May 28. It is possible that Turkey may not accept the results calmly, and the supporters of each candidate, believing that he won, may behave unpredictably. Although Erdogan has said that he is ready to resign if he loses the election, we will see how this plays out. Especially since there is not much time left before we find out who will lead the Republic of Turkey and what path it will take.

Israel is weakening and losing allies

Israel has lost its exclusivity and must decide what place it wants to take in the new realities of the Middle East region. The scale and pace of the changes taking place in the Middle East seem to have taken Israel by surprise. One gets the strong impression that the Jewish state has lost its strategic initiative and is now forced only to react to what is happening around it. In order to survive, it must urgently determine its place in the emerging regional system, while the new place, the new role of Israel will be radically different from the previous one. The awareness of the imminent existential threat clearly revealed itself in Israeli society as early as last year, when a number of politicians and intellectuals warned of the imminent and almost inevitable collapse of the Israeli state. The arguments varied widely, including references to biblical history, but the conclusions boiled down to the alarmist pronouncement "the end is near." As we can see today, these sentiments were justified: never in its modern history has Israel been as weak and disoriented as it is today. No doubt the reasons for this are much broader than Netanyahu's judicial reform. The real reason is probably that the vector of Israel's development does not coincide with the general direction of regional development. The Jewish state is not able to integrate itself organically into the regional structure. In order to do this, it will have to change fundamentally. The Israel we have known for the last 75 years must give way to something qualitatively new. How this will happen, and what the result will be, is perhaps the most important question for the Middle East. What are the "inconsistencies" in the development of Israel and the region as a whole? First of all, Israel was originally a "foreign body." This state was created by a decision of external, global players, inhabited by people from the outside world, has existed and developed throughout its history solely with external support, and its role has ultimately been to be a conduit, a material carrier of the interests of external forces. This position provided Israel with absolute, undisputed leadership at a time when the Middle East remained the centerpiece of the strategic games of the global players. But as the focus of those players' interests has shifted, and the region has become "sovereign," Israel's former strength has become its weakness. Since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Israel has ceased to play the role of a Western outpost in the Middle East against Moscow. The fact alone could cast doubt on the meaning of the Jewish state's existence, at least in terms of its relevance to U.S. global strategy. But in the place of Moscow another "monster" happily appeared - Iran. The ghost of the ayatollahs with a nuclear bomb extended Israel's "outpost" role - until 2015, when the "nuclear deal" (JCPOA) was concluded. At that moment it became clear that Israel's exceptionalism in the region was coming to an end: it was faced with the need to abandon its status as "representative of the West" in the Arab-Muslim world and with the urgent need to define its purely regional place. At first glance, this did not seem to be a problem: Tel Aviv was an ideal deterrent (or sparring partner) for Tehran, the protector of the region from Persian Shiite expansionism. Within the framework of this logic, the "Abraham agreements" appeared: the mechanism of normalizing the relations of the Jewish state with its Arab neighbors and integrating it into the new economic fabric of the region was launched. And the way to the future seemed to be open: together with the Sunni Arabs (and, in the long term, with the Turks) in opposition to Iran - what could be more natural? However, in fact, everything turned out to be much more complicated. To begin with, Israel no longer has a guaranteed opportunity to rely on U.S. support at any time. Washington's "nuclear deal" with Tehran (whatever the status of the deal may be) and the "Abraham agreements" have essentially placed the Jewish state in a situation of strategic loneliness. Moreover, they have put Israel "on an equal footing" with its regional neighbors. This has never happened before in the modern history of the country, and this is the grave danger that Israelis fear most of all. Under these conditions, having lost its former exceptional strategic value in the eyes of the West in general and the United States in particular, having found itself "one of many" Middle Eastern states, Israel was faced with the need to clearly define its true status. Or, in other words, to become "a thing to itself," not to its former allies and patrons. And it did so: in 2018, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, the law on the Jewish character of the state of Israel was passed. The same strategic loneliness has forced to take a new look at the age-old Israeli problem of Palestine, namely the formula "two states for two peoples." Under the new conditions, this solution threatens the Jewish state with the loss of minimum security guarantees, in effect giving that security at the mercy of its neighbors, which is unacceptable. This leads to the accelerated building of Jewish settlements and to the (Netanyahu government's) development of plans for the annexation of the West Bank (in 2020). It is clear that their implementation would put an end to the two-state formula and would be a direct challenge by Israel to the entire regional environment. The Middle East, and the world as a whole, would have to make a choice: either recognize Israel as a national Jewish state within the borders that include the rest of the Palestinian territories or face a war that could escalate into a nuclear one. The calculation is quite obvious: the fear of such a war would make the neighbors accept a new Israel that would be ready for the widest possible cooperation on this basis. The game is certainly risky, but there is hardly a rational alternative.

China in the Middle East: what does it mean for Russia?

Beijing has become more active on the regional stage. The signing of the agreement on the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Beijing has in fact cemented a qualitatively new role for China in the Middle East. If before that China was limited to the economic sphere and did not participate in high-level political games, now the Celestial Empire has clearly declared its entry into the club of global players that actively and independently act on the regional stage. The appearance of the "Chinese factor" in the Middle East inevitably leads to a change in the balance of power and interests of the main players. To what extent is China capable of squeezing America in the region and affecting Russia's position? China's Middle East strategy is based on two conceptual pillars: the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and the Global Security Initiative. They complement each other: the OBOR aims to create the broadest possible international global transport, logistics and, eventually, economic system, while the conditions for its normal smooth functioning are described in the Global Security Initiative. Meanwhile, the economic component, the OBOR, has been the leading one; for years, China has been purposefully building a solid foundation for its relations with the Middle East and the base of its presence here. For example, back in 2016 Xi Jinping visited Riyadh and Tehran, and since then the trade, economic, financial and other relations of the countries in the region with Beijing have developed rapidly. Although the Chinese did not go beyond purely economic ties, however, the scale of their activities was perceived with increasing irritation in Washington. The Americans offered the region their own concept of development - Trump's "deal of the century," based on the formation of a common economic space, the political formulation of which was to be the "Abraham accords." As part of this "deal," China was given a certain place. It was assumed that Beijing should agree to it and would not claim more. In simple terms, the White House hoped that the Chinese would agree that only in Washington they could gain access to promising development projects in the Middle East. This logic could hardly satisfy Beijing. And it is probably far from the fact that China has plans to oust America from the Middle East through a massive economic offensive. Chinese diplomacy is never directed against anyone; it is aimed at achieving the so-called "conjugation." This term, in particular, is applied to Russian-Chinese relations: the conjugation of integration processes within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Chinese OBOR initiative. Most likely, such conjugation of the OBOR with the U.S. "deal of the century" was - and still is - Beijing's strategic goal in the Middle East. After Xi's visits to Riyadh and Tehran in 2016, the Chinese assertiveness in the region alarmed Washington. So much so, in 2021, that intelligence convinced the White House that the PRC was building the Khalifa deep-water port in Abu Dhabi, which could be used by the Chinese navy. A command was issued, and the Emirates reported that the terms of cooperation with the PRC on this project had been renegotiated. A similar scenario developed around the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod. However, neither project was shut down. Neither the Emirates nor Israel turned their backs on China. This is an indication of how seriously the region considered the prospects for the development of OBOR at that time. It was the Chinese initiative that turned out to be the most attractive against the background of the virtually frozen U.S. "deal of the century." But why did this deal not work? It seems that the Americans in their strategy focused not on the economy, but on politics - the "Abraham Accords," which, according to Washington's logic, were supposed to prepare a solid ground for the launch of ambitious economic programs. This has thrown off the tempo that Trump was trying to set the process, and as a result, the U.S. plan has lost its appeal and competitiveness. The Chinese continued to fundamentally work only on the economic front, ignoring politics. The correctness of this approach became fully evident when China and Iran concluded a strategic partnership agreement in 2021. It turned out that by blocking projects with China that are profitable for the countries of the region, America is no longer able to stop China's offensive in the Iranian direction and is unable to offer anything more interesting, although, of course, it can still prevent someone from doing something. During the same period, it was reported that Beijing was allegedly helping Saudi Arabia develop missile, and even nuclear, programs. This meant that China was already encroaching on the spheres of influence on the regional balance of power. And the U.S. is no longer able to stop this encroachment. It is logical to assume that at that time Washington understood the need to find a formula for " conjugation" of American and Chinese strategies in the Middle East. It is possible that the difficulty of this task was one of the reasons why President Biden's visit to the Gulf in 2022 was first postponed, and when it finally took place, it was so ineffective. But for China, the search for a mutually acceptable solution was hardly easy: last year's visit of President Xi to the region was also postponed from May to December... True, its results were not much better. This was followed by the visit of Iran's president to China in February, which resulted in the launch of a practical program of strategic cooperation between the two countries. By the spring of this year, a truly solid, sustainable platform had been established to ensure China's strong and long-term presence in the Gulf. And on this basis, Beijing took the next step by elevating its regional role to a political level; the Global Security Initiative followed in the wake of the OBOR. Apparently, the Middle East is one of the first regions (along with Ukraine) where China will put this initiative into practice. This means that the competition between the concepts of the "deal of the century" and the OBOR is complemented by the competition between the American "Abraham Accords" and the Chinese Global Initiative. But does this competition lead to confrontation? Hardly. China's entry into the Middle Eastern political scene fits into the logic of the U.S. strategy. Judge for yourself: the normalization of relations between Iran and the KSA (and, therefore, with all the Gulf countries plus Egypt) is a crucial component of the plan to "make Iran a responsible participant in the balance of power." This normalization had been prepared for a long time, and America did not interfere in any way. Apparently, the question was who would take responsibility for it, or rather, who would vouch for Iran. Only China could take on that role. Which it did, doing the United States a great favor. Interestingly, one of the results of such a step could be a situation in which the fate of Iran's "nuclear dossier" would be decided between Washington and Beijing, while the other participants in the "Vienna format," including Russia, would be left out of the equation. In one of the first comments on the news of the Iranian-Saudi agreements in Beijing, U.S. officials noted that Washington is primarily concerned about stopping the conflict in Yemen and shelling the territory of the KSA from Yemeni territory. The response was Iran's refusal to continue arming the Houthis, against the background of which China at the UN declared its "readiness to solve the Yemeni issue." Perhaps these examples are not enough to state unequivocally that China and America are working on mechanisms not of confrontation, but of conjugation of their Middle East strategies. But let's look at what is going on in Israel: the severe internal political crisis has actually deprived Tel Aviv of the opportunity to conduct an active regional policy, which has opened up the widest opportunities for Chinese projects with the Arabs, Iranians and Turks. Is this a coincidence? Hardly, given the power of American influence over the Jewish state. In other words, there is good reason to believe that the (temporary) neutralization of Israel is one possible sign of the complex game Beijing and Washington are playing in the region to change the balance of global power in the region. At the same time, the Americans appear to be seeking to shift the brunt of responsibility for regional stability onto the Chinese shoulders, leaving themselves open to blocking Beijing's actions that would run counter to American interests. This development carries significant risks for Russia, since one of the direct consequences of the U.S.-Chinese strategic "conjugation" could be the reduction of Moscow's place and role in the Middle East. For example (theoretical at the moment), we could look at Chinese mediation in Syria: China could take the initiative to replace the "Astana format" with the "Beijing format" and achieve what Moscow has not yet succeeded in - to bring Damascus and Ankara to the table. This does not look unbelievable... Is Russia ready for this? Another example: China has proposed holding a comprehensive summit of the Gulf states, including the Arabs and Iran, in Beijing. It could culminate in the formation of a regional security structure under the auspices of the PRC. Will there be a place for Russia in it? Probably, yes. It is not for nothing that naval exercises of the Russian Federation, the PRC, and the IRI are held. And the expansion of the SCO toward the Gulf can also guarantee Russia’s participation in the regional balance. But the conditions, scale and degree of independence of such participation may be limited. The model of Russia's interaction with the Chinese strategy in the Gulf may become a model for such interaction in other, adjacent regions, in particular, in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean. And here, as in the Gulf, it is likely to be about integrating Russia into the logic of China's actions with the prospect of a gradual loss of freedom of action and room for maneuver. Of course, in doing so, Russia's role, experience, connections, and active assistance will be indispensable to Beijing. But for how long? That is something to think about..

Saudi-Iranian normalization: what next?

Let's analyze its implications for the region and globally. Undoubtedly, the signing in Beijing of the agreement on normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a pivotal event in the modern history of the Middle East. Its significance is quite comparable to the Camp David Accords of 1979 or the "Abraham Accords" of 2020. It will have multidimensional consequences both regionally and globally. Let us try to analyze them. So, what's at the regional level? This is an unconditional victory for Iran and the Arabs and a loss for Israel. Tehran has taken another, fundamentally important step toward completely breaking its international isolation and, in particular, has opened the way to a qualitative change in relations with the Arab world as a whole. Israel, which is experiencing the deepest crisis in its history, has lost its strategic initiative and now has to act in response to external challenges. The room for maneuver is rapidly narrowing. The Arabs, on the contrary, receive additional opportunities to maneuver and to play effectively with the three non-Arab poles in the region (Iran, Israel, Turkey). In assessing the prospects for the development of the regional situation as a whole, we should first note that the Iranian-Saudi normalization makes more real the prospect of building two parallel bridges between the Gulf and Turkey, about which we have recently written: in the Arabian and Iranian directions. This, on the other hand, creates the preconditions for the formation of an Arab-Turkish-Iranian (Islamic) triangle and, accordingly, the "marginalization" of Israel. In essence, we are talking about the possibility of the collapse of the plan to create a Sunni-Israeli anti-Iranian coalition (Israel, Arabs and Turkey), which is the basis of the "Abraham Accords." This assumption is confirmed by the unrest in the Jewish state that has been going on for over ten weeks and by the signs of a new deterioration in relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara because of the aggressive anti-Palestinian stances of the extreme right-wing members of Netanyahu's current government. We can also add to this the virtual collapse of plans for Riyadh to join the "Abraham Accords." If the trend of the regional balance is indeed so, it gives the Arab pole additional room for maneuver. This could involve the creation of a "two-fold" Arab core (e.g., the KSA-UAE), the two parts of which would be able to lead two parallel parties: for example, Riyadh with Tehran, and Abu Dhabi with Tel Aviv. At the same time, the Saudis could focus on solving controversial Arab-Iranian problems, including Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As for the Emiratis, their area of responsibility could be the maintenance and development of relations with Israel in order to form Arab security guarantees for Israel. Indeed, the normalization of relations between the two shores of the Gulf would offer hope for ending the protracted conflict in Yemen, as well as the long and debilitating political crisis in Lebanon. However, resolving the Syrian and Iraqi problems would require close cooperation with Turkey, which would naturally strengthen the Islamic triangle and put Israel in an even more uncomfortable position. Under these circumstances, the only regional "consolers" for the Israelis could be the Emirates, which have managed to establish a very extensive and effective network of ties and influence in the Middle East and beyond. They would be perfectly capable of spearheading a campaign to mobilize the Arabs in order to prevent the complete collapse of Israel (which could have catastrophic consequences for everyone). Following that logic, it is not unreasonable to suppose that, after a little while, the Emirates would offer Tel Aviv their own program of "normalization", which would be much more balanced from the standpoint of the interests of the Arab world, and, most importantly, would include a system of Israeli obligations to its Arab partners (which has never happened in the history of the Jewish state). In other words, this idea can be formulated differently: the Arabs can assume the role of guarantor of Israel's security in the face of the Iranian threat in all its manifestations ( whether it is directly the military and nuclear capabilities of the IRI, or the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Palestinian "radicals" - Hamas and others, the IRGC forces in Syria and Iraq). Determining the nature and reliability of these guarantees is a matter for the future. But logic leads to the conclusion that the Arabs would like to be a deterrent for Iran in the interests of the whole region and Israel as well. In exchange, Israel will have to make clear commitments that take into account the interests of the Arabs. Their content is also a matter for the future. But they must be based on a legally enforceable renunciation of preventive unilateral action (in the Israeli interpretation, an unconditional and unrestricted right to self-defense). The result could be the emergence of a regional security architecture based on two axes: Arab-Iranian and Arab-Israeli. Ideally, this structure would be supplemented by an economic and infrastructural (transport) circuit, linked to Turkey, which could also be integrated into the regional stability formula as a balancer between Iran and Israel. Thus, in the end, a system could be formed that organically includes the three non-Arab poles, the balance between which would be maintained from Arabia. The set of instruments for such governance should include: the mechanisms of the "Abraham Accords" with Israel (which are to be improved); the system of economic, infrastructure, as well as military-political relations with Turkey (which has already begun and which is to be completed); and the system of relations with Iran (which is to be created anew).

Peter Koenig: China’s Initiative Brings Iran and Saudi Arabia Back on the Diplomatic Track

What does it mean for Yemen? Interview with geopolitical analyst Peter Koenig. GEOFOR: Mr. Koenig, the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shia Republic of Iran have agreed – in a China brokered deal – to re-establish diplomatic relations within the coming two months. You know the region very well, you worked in Yemen. Will this new Riyadh – Tehran diplomacy bring an end to the horrendously atrocious war in Yemen? How do you see the roots of this conflict in which the worst killing and maiming of a most impoverished people in the last hundred years has taken place? Could resolution of this war be one of the key objectives of China’s in bringing these two countries back together? Koenig: Please allow me first a bit of background. Diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down in January 2016, when Iran’s Foreign Minister claimed that Saudi warplanes had "deliberately" targeted Iran’s Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen’s Capital City. As a precursor to that event, on 2 January 2016, the Saudi Government executed 47 people throughout Saudi cities, one of them was a prominent Shia scholar. Iranian protesters about the execution ransacked and set ablaze the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. This prompted the Saudi Sunni Foreign Minister to cut diplomatic ties with the Shia enemy Iran. In hindsight and knowing what we know today, this rather harsh action by the Saudis, smells like provoked and directed by the powers that be – the US and the UK; those who also are the principal arms suppliers to Riyadh for the war against Yemen. The Riyadh -Tehran conflict is, in fact, a triangular conflict, involving Yemen in the first degree. Earlier, in September 2014, the Houthis, a humanitarian rebel group, invaded and took control of Sana’a to oust then Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, whose government was controlled by Riyadh. The Shiite Houthis have links to Iran. The Houthis also had a history of rising up against the Saudi Sunni government which for years has played an influential role in Yemen’s internal affairs. Yemen is situated in an extremely strategic geographic location, overseeing the Sea of Arabia, where 70% of the world’s energy is shipped through. It is likely that the Saudi influence on Yemen is “peddled” by the Pentagon, which has several military bases in Saudi Arabia. They are Washington’s counterpart – a solid military protection – to the US deal with the Saudi King in 1971, that Saudi Arabia, leader of OPEC, would henceforth trade all hydrocarbons in US-dollars. This resulted in the world being flooded by petro-dollars. It became an important cornerstone in the US-dollar-hegemony over the world. Yemen's so-called civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis took control of Yemen's capital, Sana’a. The Houthis had – and still have – the support of a large majority of the Yemeni people. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia, presumably leading a large coalition of nine countries from West Asia and North Africa, launched a “military intervention” – a war against Yemen – which officially is still called, as of this day, the Yemeni Civil War. The official version is that the Saudis reacted to deposed Yemeni President Hadi’s call for military support to bring him back as the head of Yemen and to get rid of the Houthi movement. Looking back, and knowing what we know today, the real instigators of this atrocious war against one of the world’s poorest countries, are the US and the UK. They finance the Saudis and supply them with weapons to literally slaughter Yemenis. Predominantly suffering are women and children. They also starve Yemenis to death, by closing vital ports for shipments of food and other life-necessities, the port of Aden and the Red Sea port of Hudeidah, the second largest port in the country. The US is again fighting a proxy war. Sounds familiar? The war in Yemen became one of the many precursors to the war in the Ukraine. How many more are to follow before the killer-empire falls? This eight-year-old conflict in Yemen is a confrontation between the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and of course, the US and the UK – against the Houthi rebels, supported by the people of Yemen and by Iran. The country's humanitarian crisis is said to be among the worst in the world, due to widespread hunger, disease, and attacks on civilians. According to the UN, over 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen, as well as an estimated more than 227,000 dead as a result of an ongoing famine and lack of healthcare facilities due to the war. Yemen’s population as of March 2023 is estimated 31.6 million. There are no reliable statistics about the death toll of this war. But it is estimated that at least a third of the victims are women and children. When it comes to starvation, mostly children are concerned. According to an Oxfam spokesperson, “The armed conflict in Yemen has exacerbated discrimination and inequalities. Women are, in general, struggling from unequal access to services and resources, as decision-making is often made by men in their communities.” To finally answer your question on what it may mean for Yemen – at this point it is difficult to predict, but I hope and much of the world community trusts that this will bring an end to this horrifying war – and eventually Peace to Yemen. GEOFOR: What will we see looking forward now? Will this new diplomatic agreement between Riyadh and Tehran, mediated by China over several days in Beijing, bring the long overdue Peace to Yemen – and the necessary aid funding to rebuild Yemen’s infrastructure and social rehabilitation? Koenig: Both countries, Iran and the Saudis, committed to “non-interference” in each other’s internal affairs, according to a joint statement by Saudi, Iranian, and Chinese officials. Representatives of both countries also said that they would resume a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, and would work to enhance “regional and international peace and security.” The regional conflict between Riyadh and Tehran is further exacerbated by the two countries supporting opposing sides also in Syria, while Iran backs the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, along with the US and Israel, consider Hezbollah a terrorist group. China’s initiative to bring these two Middle-East countries again together and in peace, is multi-faceted. It is a major, truely tectonic, achievement. Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the world’s largest oil and gas producers. Their common interests go way beyond joint OPEC membership. Both are keen in detaching themselves from the western ever-more chaotic, sanction-prone, fraudulent economic system, intending to shift eastwards – into eastern coalitions led by China and Russia. Both countries would like to join the BRICS alliance, which is in turn hoping to be admitted to the China-Russia led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has during the last year or so provided strong support to the BRICS-plus, an indication that the BRICS association with eastern groupings and eventually full integration is welcome. The BRI may also become instrumental in rebuilding Yemen – which would be a positive development for Yemen, plus a quasi-invitation to move towards eastern alliances. Beijing’s role in brokering the agreement is a major diplomatic win for China, but also for Iran, Saudi Arabia and – hopefully also for Yemen. It is a true win-win solution. While Iraq and Syria conflicts are still lingering on, there are prospects that the dynamics created by China through the renewed diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran, may eventually bring lasting Peace to the Middle East. Peter Koenig is a geopolitical analyst and a former Senior Economist at the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), where he has worked for over 30 years on water and environment around the world. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for online journals and is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed; and  co-author of Cynthia McKinney’s book “When China Sneezes: From the Coronavirus Lockdown to the Global Politico-Economic Crisis” (Clarity Press – November 1, 2020) Peter Koenig is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). Peter Koenig is also is a non-resident Senior Fellow of the Chongyang Institute of Renmin University, Beijing. Serge Duhanov is a journalist, specializing in international relations and national security issues. Не worked as the NOVOSTI Press Agency's own correspondent in Canada (Ottawa, 1990-1992) and the US Bureau Chief (Washington, 1996-2001) of the newspapers Business MN, Delovoy Mir and Interfax-AiF.

Why did Erdogan urgently need Assad?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again managed to surprise the world. He invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to organize a trilateral summit with the participation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Well, this has never happened – and here it is again! It all started quite recently, just a few weeks ago. On the 20th of November, Moscow began talking about its principled readiness to provide a platform for Turkish-Syrian negotiations at the highest level. This was made clear both in the Foreign Ministry and in the Kremlin. This happened against the background of normalization (this word is very popular in the Middle East lately) of relations between Turkey and Egypt. The presidents of the two countries Erdogan and Sisi met at the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, shook hands and even had a friendly conversation. After that, Erdogan was asked: they say, since everything is going so well with Egypt, don't you want to make peace with Syria as well? To which the wise Turk remarked: there is no eternal enmity in politics… So it is quite possible that we will witness another 180-degree turn in Ankara's regional policy. Erdogan, who once called Assad his brother and prayed with him in a Damascus mosque, turned into his sworn enemy with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. For more than a decade, Ankara wanted nothing to do with Assad, demanding his departure as an indispensable condition for restoring peace. And now it was Ankara who was the first (!) to talk about the possibility and even desirability of personal negotiations at the highest level. It is remarkable that the first approaches to solving the issue were met with a magnificent "no!" in Damascus. They said that now, on the eve of the elections in Turkey, "is not the time." When the elections are held, then we will talk to whoever wins them. It would seem that Erdogan cannot tolerate such a slap in the face from Assad. He did not forgive insults (and this is exactly an insult) from much more authoritative persons than the president of the SAR. However, it did not happen at all: he did not strike a pose, but decided to turn to an intermediary whom Assad could hardly refuse – Putin. So, Erdogan is really hot. He really needs peace with Assad. But why ? And why now? Most observers insist that the whole issue is in the elections. They say that normalization with Damascus is necessary for Erdogan to win the elections. Perhaps this is partly true. However, it is difficult to imagine what kind of problems Assad will help Erdogan solve. Unless he agrees to the repatriation of some of the Syrian refugees, who have turned into a severe headache for Turkey. But even if such an agreement is reached, it will make Erdogan dependent on how quickly, clearly and conscientiously Assad will implement it. This is the position of the weak, and Erdogan is unlikely to agree to it. It seems that it's not about the elections. Erdogan is a real politician and cares not only about the upcoming elections, but above all about the future of his country. And it is the concern for the future that today dictates to him the need to establish relations with Bashar al-Assad. The first thing to pay attention to is the very sovereignty of the region, which we have already talked about. Turkey is one of the regional centers of power, and it cannot afford to watch from the sidelines as other players establish ties with Damascus, seek to draw it into their own orbits. We are talking about both Iran and the UAE. Erdogan simply has no right to miss the moment to join the struggle for influence on Assad. It should be noted that Ankara has recently normalized relations with Tel Aviv. This opened up wide opportunities for regional maneuvering. But it is really impossible to implement them without access to Syria (as well as to Egypt). Therefore, we can say that entering into direct contacts with Assad and, moreover, friendship with him is a logical continuation of the restoration of full–scale ties with the Jewish state. Reasoning in this logic, one can come to the conclusion that Erdogan's proposal for normalization with Syria is a move in a regional game: Turkey is helping Israel to oust Iran in the Syrian arena, which is currently going through difficult times and is not capable of active resistance. The second most important aspect is the problem of establishing maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean. After the recent conclusion of the Lebanese-Israeli agreement on this issue and taking into account the plans to create a gas hub in Turkey, this topic is becoming very important. The fact is that the maritime borders of Syria are not defined – neither with Lebanon nor with Turkey. And without this, it is impossible to think about a truly serious development of hydrocarbon deposits on the Levantine shelf and the creation of a system of underwater pipelines here. It is curious that the Lebanese immediately after the conclusion of the agreement with Israel tried to start negotiations with Damascus, but were refused. Everyone, including the Turks, is well aware that Assad will demand a very high price for his consent to the delimitation of the sea. But for Ankara, in any case, the first step should be the recognition of Assad. And Erdogan is ready to take this step. It should also be borne in mind that the issue of maritime borders between Turkey and Syria is directly related to the problem of land borders. Syrians still do not recognize the Turkish annexation of the Alexandretta Sanjak (now the province of Adana) after the First World War. It is clear that Damascus cannot take back this territory. But he may well use this issue in order to make it as difficult as possible for Ankara to resolve the issue of maritime borders. To date, there is an Adana Agreement between the parties, which can serve as a basis for resolving border problems. And Moscow has repeatedly called on the Turks and Syrians to return to this document for many years. It is possible that one way or another it will become the basis for the trilateral negotiations proposed by Erdogan (if they take place). It is also possible that their outcome may be some kind of updated and updated version of the Adana Agreement. Or a course will be taken to develop a completely new, more comprehensive treaty. But this is a matter of the more distant future. Be that as it may, it is already quite clear that Erdogan's insistence on meeting with Assad has good reasons. But what can this mean for Russia? There is a completely self-evident thesis on the surface: of course, this is a success for Russia. The Kremlin, at the request of the leader of a NATO member country, organizes his meeting with Bashar al-Assad! This alone is enough to experience a well-deserved sense of deep satisfaction… However, if you look closely, one nuance becomes noticeable: what if Assad refuses? Or will he just get cranky, start putting forward preconditions? After all, he now turned out to be needed by everyone and can quite afford to say something like "now is not the time." In addition, Tehran is behind it. They cannot fail to understand that the game, including with the participation of Russia, is being played to weaken, if not oust Iran. And the Iranians can legitimately ask: why are we not invited to negotiate with Assad? Wouldn't it be more logical to use the proven format of the Astana Troika (Russia – Turkey–Iran), where to invite Damascus as the fourth participant? In other words, Erdogan's proposal to Putin leads, in fact, to a significant increase in Russia's responsibility for the development of the situation in Syria and in the region as a whole. Of course, this allows you to have an impact (sometimes decisive) on the dynamics of the balance of power. At the same time, the prospects for "monetization" of such an important and responsible role remain unclear. Politically and geopolitically, Russia is gaining points. It is necessary to create a mechanism for converting them into specific economic benefits.

Turkey: foreign warships will not pass through the straits

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Ankara continues to build mutually beneficial relations with Russia, ignoring the angry shouts of the West. Planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles stationed on the boards of foreign military vessels that have received permission to stay in Turkey's internal waters or visit its ports will not be able to take off freely in the country's airspace without special permission. In addition, foreign military divers are also prohibited from diving unsupervised. An exception is made only for those cases when urgent quarantine control or repair is required. And then – with the permission of the authorities and accompanied by a Turkish diving team. Foreign warships are required to notify Turkish services 5 miles (8 km) before entering its internal waters or ports. This decision was made by a special decree of the Government on the basis of international law. We are talking about the "Straits Regime Convention" (better known as the "Montreux Convention"), which restored Turkey's sovereignty over the Black Sea Straits, as well as guaranteed the special rights of coastal States in terms of their use. It was signed on July 20, 1936, following a conference in the Swiss city of Montreux. Let me remind you that the document regulates in detail the passage of warships through the straits, putting the fleet of the Black Sea states in a preferential position. These countries have the right to conduct any of their warships in peacetime (subject to prior notification to the Turkish authorities). For the navies of other States, the convention establishes class restrictions, allowing passage to small surface ships, small combat and auxiliary vessels. "We have fulfilled and will continue to fulfill the provisions stipulated by the Montreux Convention. Until today, no request has been received. We have warned all countries that warships will not pass through the straits," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. This, according to him, is connected with a special military operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. Prior to that, in principle, warships of the United States, Great Britain and other NATO countries freely scurried through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, despite restrictions, which created a nervous situation in the Black Sea region. This decision of the Turkish authorities, if you look at it more closely, opens up wide opportunities for conspiracy theory. For example, various aircraft may well launch from foreign military vessels in the interests of the Ukrainian regime. Why not? The attack on October 29 of nine UAVs and seven autonomous naval unmanned aerial vehicles of the Nezalezhnaya on the ships of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is well known. "The preparation of this terrorist act and the training of servicemen of the Ukrainian 73rd Special Center for Naval Operations were carried out under the leadership of British specialists located in the city of Ochakov, Mykolaiv region of Ukraine," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. Those who took a similar part in a larger–scale crime - the undermining of the "Northern Streams" in the Baltic Sea. Indeed, who is immune from the fact that such an attack will not be carried out, let's say, from British warships located in Turkish territorial waters? With divers, too, "oil painting". The "Turkish Stream" passes through the bottom of the Black Sea, through which gas comes from Russia. What is not an object for another attack? By the way, the USNI News website recently reported on the data received that three US Navy ships were simultaneously in the area of the Danish island of Bornholm during the explosion on the threads of the "Northern Streams". These are the landing ship Oak Hill, which arrived from Polish Gdynia, as well as the landing transport ships Arlington and Gunston Hall docks. What did they forget there? But they could, theoretically, deliver anything to the place of the terrorist attack: explosives, marine drones, combat swimmers, and deep-sea divers. Turkey in general has been irritating the collective West lately. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stubbornly bends his line, pursuing exclusively national interests. Thanks to joint efforts, as is known, the export of more than 13 million tons of grain was organized. According to the opinion of the Turkish president, which he expressed during regular telephone conversations with the owner of the Kremlin, it is gradually possible to start work on the export of food and other goods within the grain corridor. Not least of all – Russian products. It would not be superfluous to note that the restrictions imposed on foreign navies can also be a kind of "gesture of goodwill" to Moscow. Trust, economic and political cooperation between our countries continue to grow steadily. Last week, for example, Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller was in Turkey, who met with Erdogan. It was about a gas hub that has already begun to be built in Turkey. Its creation was announced by President Putin in October. It would be possible to transport gas through it in volumes comparable to pumping through the disabled "threads" of the "Northern Streams". Here is more recent news of bilateral relations. Political consultations on the line of foreign ministries were held in Istanbul last weekend. According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin, a wide range of topics were discussed: the reform of the UN Security Council, the situation in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, and the Middle East. And on December 12, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin arrived in Ankara at the head of a parliamentary delegation on an official visit. The economic card also turned out to be a trump card. It became known that by the end of September, Turkey set a new record for exports to Russia – $ 1.1 billion. This is 27% more than a month earlier. Russia remained the main importer in September – 6.2 billion dollars. The trade turnover may reach $80 billion this year. Not bad! This gave reason for concern to the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrel. "Turkey's policy of non-alignment with the EU's restrictive measures against Russia is a cause for concern. The deepening of bilateral economic relations between Turkey and the Russian Federation is also a cause for great concern," he said, clearly gnashing his teeth. Borrel recalled that the European Union has concluded a Customs Union with Ankara, which allows (again, purely theoretically) to supply dual–use goods to Russia bypassing sanctions. And this is a reason for Brussels' "huge concern"!

Is the Middle East on its way to strategic independence?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text For many decades, the development, particularly political, of the Middle East has been a "derivative" of global trends. Simplifying a bit, we can say that peace and war here depended on the decisions and actions of primarily external players, whether they were the "powers" of the 19th century or the "great powers" of the 20th century. However, now we can see more and more evidence of the "sovereignization" of the region: the internal dynamics of the Middle East political processes are beginning to prevail, and now external players are forced to adapt to it. In any case, such an impression is formed when looking at the situation from the point of view of our basic hypothesis, according to which the basis of the regional architecture is a system of relations between three non–Arab countries – Iran, Israel and Turkey – as well as a heterogeneous "Arab Mashrik" (East), within which its own triangle dominates - the KSA, the UAE, the ARE, supplemented by Qatar. As part of such a scheme, we saw some time ago how Iran's status was purposefully raised – almost to the level of a "responsible regional player" and a de facto nuclear power. This put Tehran on a par with Tel Aviv and Ankara. In this new – recognized – capacity, Iran has led the way to normalize relations with the Arabs (first of all, the KSA). That is, in fact, he followed the same course that Israel took a little earlier and Turkey is also moving along. The Iranian-Arab normalization was carried out on three main platforms – in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; its main content was balancing the interests of Tehran and Riyadh. And, apparently, this process has been going on and is going on, in general, productively. Judge for yourself: in Iraq, the parliament was finally able to elect a president and appoint a new government - and this despite the wave of unrest that shook the country in late summer and early autumn. At that moment it seemed that there would be no compromise, but it turned out that, on the contrary, the compromise was born as a result of the "mutiny" of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. A compromise was also reached in Lebanon: there Hezbollah approved an agreement with Israel on maritime borders. Without going into the interpretation of all the subtleties of regional policy, we can still conclude that this fact is a signal that Tehran will not become a wall on the path of Israeli-Lebanese reconciliation (or, speaking in a local context, "normalization"). And this, in turn, can be understood as the Iranians securing more advantageous positions for themselves in bargaining with the KSA on the issue of a new Lebanese president. After all, now, if Riyadh fails to reach an agreement with Tehran on this issue, the fate of the maritime agreement will be at stake. That is, thereby the Saudis will find themselves in opposition not only to the Iranians, but also to the Israelis and Americans (the main sponsors and authors of the Lebanese-Israeli deal on maritime borders). Finally, in Yemen, despite the fact that the terms of the ceasefire agreements between the Houthis and the government (and in fact, the pro–Saudi coalition) have expired, nevertheless, large-scale hostilities have not resumed. The parties are clearly trying not to upset the balance. Of course, against this background, the publications in the American press of the "revelations" of Saudi intelligence about Iran's allegedly "imminent" attacks on its Arab neighbors and, above all, on the KSA itself sounded very threatening. In response to this "call", Washington even sent its warplanes "towards Iran" from bases in the Gulf. Finally, Riyadh announced that it was ending contacts with Tehran, which apparently meant the closure of negotiations in Baghdad, which the parties had been conducting for quite a long time in order to restore diplomatic relations. All this sham, especially in the conditions of incessant unrest in Iran, it would seem, should have indicated the failure of attempts at Arab-Iranian normalization. And if so, then this should be followed by another wave of escalation, which will inevitably return the region to full control of external forces led by the United States, which means that there is no need to talk about the "sovereignization" of the Middle East. However, it seems that the situation is somewhat different. And the key to understanding the situation is the change of government in Israel, or rather, the first statements of the new-old Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he outlined the priorities of his regional strategy. The number one there is the involvement of new Arab countries in normalization with Israel. And only number two is countering Iran. The fact that Iran has receded into the background is news in itself. But the main question that I would like to clarify is: with which Arab countries exactly does Bibi intend to "normalize"? After all, if you look carefully, then the entire potential reserve in this direction has been exhausted: Israel already has relations with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and partly with Sudan. Either "irreconcilable" ones, such as Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, or "unnecessary" ones (because they are dilapidated), like Libya, Yemen, remained outside the process of "normalization".; or those who are already cooperating with Tel Aviv in fact, but do not want to do it officially – Oman, Qatar. These latter, by the way, may be of considerable interest, along with, for example, Kuwait. But still, the main goal of "normalization" is Saudi Arabia. There can be no doubt that Tel Aviv, as well as Tehran and Ankara, wants to get it. If we evaluate the events of recent weeks from this point of view, we can assume that the essence of what is happening, in particular, in Iran, as well as in Iranian-Saudi relations, is the "jealousy" of the Israelis. They cannot allow Iran to normalize its relations with the KSA first. This means that the struggle for the Saudi Kingdom is heating up between Israel and Iran – just like for the heart of a beautiful (and fabulously rich) princess. Until recently, the initiative was in the hands of the Iranians, and it almost came to restoring diplomatic relations with the Saudis. But the explosion of large-scale unrest in Iran disrupted this process, and now Netanyahu is ready to seize the initiative. At the same time, Ankara does not stand aside, it also wants to be the first to get Riyadh into its arms. The Turks are putting pressure on the economy: during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Turkey a few months ago, billion–dollar contracts were signed, and this is a trump card that neither Israel nor Iran can boast of. In addition, the Turks, unlike their two rivals, have established excellent relations with the closest and very influential neighbors of the KSA – the Emirates and Qatar. And they can also act as an ally of the Saudis in Syria (and Lebanon), balancing the influence of Iran and Israel there. Assessing the situation of interaction within the triangle, one should always keep in mind that each of the "corners" seeks to prevent the union of the other two against it. That is, Iran is not afraid of Israel or Turkey as such, but of their tandem. And the same applies to all others: Tel Aviv takes care that Tehran and Ankara do not get together, and Ankara does not want this to happen between Tehran and Tel Aviv, no matter how impossible this option may seem. If we assume that at the moment the main struggle is unfolding between Israel and Iran for the right to "normalize" with Saudi Arabia, Turkey may have a decisive role: it is she who is able to swing the scales in one direction or another. Therefore, before winning the heart of the Saudis, the rivals will have to compete for the sympathy of the Turks. The Israelis have had a difficult time: the restoration of diplomatic relations, the president's visit to Ankara, the resumption of military-technical cooperation, etc. The Iranians seem to be lagging behind. But they have their own set of proposals to the heirs of the Ottomans: the main dish here is the joint fight against Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. And, as you can see, in this field, IRI and TR are quite capable of joint actions: The Iranian IRGC's massive strikes on Kurdish bases in Iraq actually coincided with a similar Turkish operation. And on Syrian soil, Iran probably has something to offer the Turks. Especially considering the Turkish gas hub project, which could bring Iranian gas to world markets. In short, the possibility of an Iranian-Turkish tandem capable of making an offer to Riyadh, which will be extremely difficult to refuse, cannot but excite (if not frighten) Tel Aviv. They understand here that it is very difficult to keep Ankara in the Israeli orbit; it can slip out of their hands at any moment. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Israelis are dragging Turkey's "sibling" Azerbaijan into their game, while systematically pitting Baku and Tehran against each other. The calculation is simple: mutual hostility between Azerbaijan and Iran, their mutual provocations (fortunately, there is Armenia) will force Ankara to side with Baku and against Tehran. This is an additional insurance… You can analyze the situation further, gradually expanding the geography and/or delving into local problems. However, it seems that the above analysis is enough to make sure that the political processes in the Middle East region are gaining their own dynamics, their own content. The game that is being played inside the contours we have described is not a derivative of the development of the external, global environment. And this is the main characteristic of the new stage of regional development.

Turkey: how long will the multi-vector policy last?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Turkey's state-owned banks, following private ones, abandoned the Russian MIR payment system. The largest private banks of the republic, Isbank and Denizbank, followed by the state-owned Halkbank, VakifBank and Ziraat Bank, no longer accept Russian MIR cards, which caused considerable surprise among tourists who are already in Turkey. The reason is a statement by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department (OFAC, a US government agency that oversees sanctions policy). It has recently warned third-country financial institutions against entering into new agreements or expanding existing ones with the Russian payment system, otherwise the organizations will fall under secondary sanctions. Recall: On September 15, OFAC made it clear that it regards Russia's recent efforts to expand the use of the Mir payment card network as an attempt to circumvent sanctions. Thus, those who, according to the United States, support such efforts may face restrictions in accordance with American legislation on sanctions against "harmful Russian foreign policy." It's time, I think, for Russia to introduce bans on supplies to the United States and other unfriendly countries of vital goods for them (for example, titanium and nuclear fuel) and adopt a similar law. But this is so, a lyrical digression. To be fair, Turkey is not the only one who refuses to work with the Mir system. Kazakhstan and Vietnam have also suspended the acceptance of Russian cards. Analysts believe that this list of states will only grow in the foreseeable future. On the official website of the "World" in the "Geography" section, only Russia has been listed since September 21. Whereas earlier, in addition to the countries already mentioned, Abkhazia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, South Ossetia, South Korea and, of course, Turkey were also mentioned there. The Turks would not be Turks if they did not have a "plan B". Ankara is already developing a "ticket card" for tourists from Russia. It can be used in restaurants, shops, museums, etc. The money will be debited from the tourist operator, not travelers. However, it is not yet specified whether the "tickets" will be prepaid or, on the contrary, paid for by tourists after the fact. It is possible that the necessary amounts will be immediately debited by the operator from the Russian accounts of tourists. The issue of commissions and the cost of such services has not yet been disclosed. The multi-vector nature of Ankara's policy has long been a cause for ridicule. Someone, on the contrary, admires her. For example, Turkey has stated that it is considering buying Russian military aircraft if the United States refuses to sell them the F-16. Earlier there was talk of buying the Su-57 instead of the F-35. Ankara stated that they would not support or recognize referendums in the DPR, LPR, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions. But, nevertheless, the Turks are ready to host a Russian nuclear power plant and transit Russian gas to Europe. In this context, experts from the British analytical center Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) emphasize that the United States and the EU will continue to increase pressure on Turkey to adopt sanctions against Russia in the coming months. However, Brussels fears that Ankara may use its levers for a "retaliatory strike". This, of course, is about managing migration flows. Today, more than 40 thousand refugees from Syria continue their trek to European countries, primarily Germany. The participants of the "freedom convoy" themselves say that there are at least 100 thousand of them. They intend to break through the Turkish-Greek border and seek a better life in the EU member states, as well as the UK. Undoubtedly, Ankara will try to make the most of this fact in negotiations with the Europeans, as it has done many times before. Especially considering the fact that Brussels today cannot provide its citizens with heat and light… In any case, at adequate prices… However, both Europeans and Americans also have ways to put pressure on Ankara. Mainly in the economic sphere, which, against the background of the approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023, is becoming increasingly relevant. The sanctions that were imposed against Turkey after its actions in Libya and the Mediterranean Sea hit hard not only the military-industrial complex, which lost the supply of a large number of spare parts and parts. The restrictions also affect Turkish businessmen, officials, and companies. As a result of these measures, the economy of the republic is experiencing almost the worst times in its history. The growth in consumer prices on average significantly exceeded the inflation target of the Central Bank of Turkey (CBRT) of 5.0%: 15.5% year-on-year. Consumer confidence is close to record lows, and confidence in the real economy has been shaken. The central bank noted in the minutes of the meeting that "the leading indicators for the third quarter continue to indicate a loss of momentum in economic activity due to a decrease in external demand." Inflation in the country, as reported in August by the Institute of Statistics of the country, exceeded 80% year-on-year, and experts expect that growth will continue. Turkish banks continue to charge households significant spreads on loans, with the latest CBRT data (September 8) showing that households paid interest rates at an average of 30.8%. This led to the fact that consumer loan rates reacted only slightly to the rate cut in August. A similar dynamic was maintained with commercial loans. However, on August 20, the Central Bank introduced rules concerning bank lending to firms. Now banks must hold lira-denominated securities in the amount of 20% of the loan amount in CBRT if the loan rate exceeds the base rate of x1.4 and 90% if it exceeds the base rate of x1.8. The data show that this immediately reduced the average rates agreed on commercial loans, approximately from 26% (on August 21) to 21% (on September 8). Thus, as noted in the EIU, a reduction in the interest rate should reduce the cost of lending to firms. However, analysts are skeptical about the possibility of new incentives to help banks lend to firms at these rates. In the long run, this could lead to credit problems throughout the economy. Analysts at Business Monitor International (BMI), a structural unit of Fitch Solutions, believe that before the 2023 elections, the Turkish authorities will continue to conduct an unorthodox monetary policy, and after that the Central Bank will return to orthodox methods and start raising rates. Experts also note that in the near future, CBRT may go on a cycle of significant increases in the key rate, which will require banks to increase the cost of borrowing. The Turkish lira is also facing difficult times. However, she has been hitting one anti-record after another for a long time. The average exchange rate in 2023 is projected to be about 21.50 TRY/USD. Despite a certain increase in Turkish exports – up to 13.1% year–on-year - the trade deficit continues to grow, including due to the rise in energy prices. In August, their prices increased by 162%. Turkey's economy is one of the main problems of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the background of the upcoming elections. No external victories will overcome the social problems of the population, the stratification of society and the fall in income. Especially if it directly hits the wallets of ordinary Turks. This is understood both in the United States and in the EU states, which are finding it increasingly difficult to do business with Turkey, which is trying to "sit on two chairs" – to benefit from Washington, Berlin, London, Paris, as well as from Moscow. The world is changing rapidly and sooner or later Ankara will have to make a choice between the West and the conditional East. Otherwise, Turkey in 2023 risks repeating the fate of many states that have tried to play their own game bypassing the United States. In addition, the Americans have long been annoyed by the Turkish leader.    Especially after Ankara did buy Russian S-400 air defense systems. On the other hand, a certain fatigue from Ankara's maneuvers has also matured in the East. So, at the recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Erdogan was openly hinted: in order to join the association, he would have to withdraw from NATO. "We have provisions on the admission of new members, which provide for a number of criteria, including belonging to the Eurasian region, active maintenance of active diplomatic, trade and economic relations and cultural ties with the SCO member states, the absence of conflicts with the SCO states, and non-involvement in external conflicts, the absence of sanctions of the UN Security Council, but also non–participation in activities and blocs hostile or directed against SCO members," said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for SCO Affairs, Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Under the current conditions, Erdogan and the AKP have less and less room for maneuver. And no matter what choice the country's authorities make, be it Washington or Moscow, some voters will consider it, if not a betrayal, then at least a mistake. Does Erdogan have a "plan B" for this case as well – the question is still open…

Biden went to the Middle East

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text An unusual impression is formed when looking at the Middle East on the eve of the visit of US President Joe Biden there. The event, needless to say, is important. After all, this is his first visit to the region, and so far the current White House administration has not presented its own regional doctrine. Everyone is terribly interested in what Biden's Middle East policy is. Traditionally, almost everything in the region depends on the direction and content of the US Middle East strategy. This is the topic around which all combinations are played out, coalitions are created, conflicts arise, etc. However, in the year and a half since the beginning of Biden's presidency, the general American theme has not been set. During this time, a lot of problems have accumulated in the Middle East, each of which the Americans are dealing with in one way or another, but there is no complete picture of such a mosaic. Therefore, it is not surprising that everyone is looking forward to Biden's visit. Moreover, his deadlines were postponed. In a word, one could say that "the whole world (or at least the entire region) froze in anticipation of Biden's arrival"… But everything turns out to be wrong. The region is by no means frozen. On the contrary, the activity of local politicians, kings, presidents, heads of government, diplomats has probably never been so high. Everyone has seen and negotiated with everyone, and more than once. And what is wonderful: this activity cannot be compared with a fever before a big event, when in a hurry they "check the clock", finish printing documents, arrange tables and chairs, adjust flags, check the operation of microphones and air conditioners, the presence of water in coolers… Such agitation on the eve of the arrival of the "owner" is a thing of the past. Now everything looks different. Namely: the President of the United States is not expected as a "director" who informs about strategic goals, gives valuable instructions that are binding, and distributes roles. They are waiting for him as a partner, who will be offered options for interaction and terms of cooperation. This is the main feature of Biden's "historic" visit: America has lost the initiative. It is not she who offers and disposes. It is not she who forms the agenda. And the head of the White House is going to the Middle East without knowing in advance the results of his negotiations there. This is really happening for the first time in many, many years, if not decades. Apparently, in order to remove this feeling, Biden, on the eve of his trip, published an article in which he made an attempt to set out his own agenda. Her theses have already been quoted many times, so there is no need to dwell on them in detail. However, it would still be appropriate to make a few comments. Biden insists that the current state of the Middle East region is much more calm and peaceful than before. At the same time, he points to a decrease in terrorist activity in Iraq, the restoration of the unity of the Arab Gulf countries, a truce in Yemen, the isolation of Iran, the prevention of a large-scale war in Gaza and the resumption of direct dialogue between the top leadership of Palestine and Israel. All this, according to Biden, is the merit of the United States. For the American public, such a description of the situation may be acceptable. However, any more or less serious analysis changes the picture. The fact is that almost all of the positions listed by the US president are largely tied to Iran. And there could not and cannot be any significant changes on any of these tracks without the consent of Tehran. And first of all in Iraq and Yemen. Does Washington really believe that the departure of Muqtada al-Sadr from the Iraqi parliament is the result of American diplomacy? Or that the Yemeni Houthis agreed to a truce in gratitude for removing them from the American list of terrorists? Or that Hamas in Gaza unexpectedly agreed to American persuasions not to continue rocket attacks on Israeli cities? It seems that all this would be impossible if it were not for the will of Iran. But he's "in isolation," says Biden. What kind of isolation can we talk about if the Iranian president visits Oman, exchanges visits with the Emir of Qatar, and preparations are underway in Baghdad for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran and the KSA in order to restore full-scale relations? And if Turkish President Recep Erdogan intends to arrive in Tehran immediately after the visit of the American leader to the Gulf? There is no "isolation" of Iran. Moreover, if we agree with Biden's opinion and recognize all the American successes and achievements listed by him, then logic will also require recognizing that the United States could achieve all this solely relying on very close and trusting cooperation with Tehran. For, let us repeat – in today's Middle East, nothing like this can be obtained without the consent of Iran. And this is well known and all regional players proceed from it. And the whole regional structure is built around this immutable fact – and not around this or that American doctrine, as it was before. Through the efforts of successive American administrations, Iran has become not only a "threshold" nuclear power and acquired its own missiles, but has managed to create strong footholds in the Arab world (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen), establish strong trade and political relations (Qatar, Oman, Syria, Gaza, partly the UAE and the PNA in the West the bank of the Jordan). Iranian warships have already moved beyond the Persian Gulf and settled into the Red Sea. And soon they will enter the expanses of the World Ocean (exercises have been announced in Venezuela, where the Iranians will participate together with Russia and China). In short, Iran, as an influence factor, has equaled the United States in the region. And this has transformed the Middle East into a completely new quality. He is no longer a passive object of American (or any other) policy, but a kind of collective subject. He has acquired an internal, independent dynamics of development, which the White House manages (at least under the current owner) unable to. This means that Biden will not only be listened to here and not so much as demanded from him to integrate America into the emerging regional architecture. And it, as we have already assumed, is formed around several centers of power: three non-Arab (Tel Aviv – Tehran – Ankara) and one Arab, which, apparently, will be heterogeneous. It has yet to be formed on the basis of the competition between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with the participation of Cairo and Baghdad. In these conditions, the only thing that the United States can really influence is competition in the Arab camp. But even here Washington can no longer make any individual decisions: neither Tel Aviv, nor Ankara, nor the Arabs themselves will allow him to do this. Because they all understand perfectly well: America is not up to the subtleties of Middle Eastern layouts right now. She won't delve into them. This means that he will inevitably make mistakes, the consequences of which will have to be sorted out for more than one year. Adventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan are classic examples of this. Nobody wants a repeat. Therefore, we can assume that the main content of Biden's Middle East visit will be, firstly, an attempt to regain the trust of the Arabs, first of all, Riyadh. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the main requirement formulated by the Arab Gulf countries is their full participation in the work on the "nuclear deal" with Iran. And the implementation of this requirement logically entails the ousting of the United States from the process, if only because Tehran consistently insists that Gulf security issues concern only coastal states and no extra–regional forces should be allowed here. This thesis, persistently repeated by Iran, seems to meet with the understanding and tacit consent of the Arabs. And we can say with a fair degree of confidence that this is their vision of the "Middle East NATO", which was mentioned by Jordanian monarch Abdullah II on the eve of Biden's visit. In the United States, this project is seen as a formalized American-Israeli-Sunni alliance against Iran. But the Gulf Arab countries need a regional bloc primarily to consolidate and institutionalize the Arab center of power in the region, and not to legitimize the presence of the United States and Israel here and give them the right of veto in solving regional problems. This, by the way, is understood in Tel Aviv, where they do not dream of binding themselves with allied obligations either with the Arabs (no matter how friendly they may be) or with Washington. So Biden will have a very difficult dialogue in this direction. No less difficulties, apparently, await him when discussing another problem - the "stabilization" of the global energy market against the background of the consequences of Russian special operations in Ukraine. The point here is to convince the Arabs (mainly the KSA) to increase oil production in order to "punish" Moscow. Technically, this task does not seem impossible. Despite the widespread opinion of French President Macron, Saudi capacities are hardly working "at the limit". The question is not to quickly increase production. For the Arabs, the question is to guarantee long-term demand. After all, no one has canceled the "green agenda" yet, and it, being adopted at the highest international level, orients oil-producing countries to a steady decline in demand for "black gold". If the prospects remain the same and demand continues to decline, then the Arabs have no reason to open their taps. They need long-term contracts, not one-time "geshefts". So, under these conditions, it is quite possible to assume that in response to Biden's wishes, he will be offered to withdraw from the Paris agreements (as his predecessor Donald Trump did). Such a step would indicate Washington's seriousness to restore the global oil market and would give Arab exporters a reason to start increasing production. But will Biden do that? Will he take responsibility for completely abandoning the foundations of his political program? It is impossible to exclude this, given that the responsibility can be blamed on Putin: they say, it is because of him that you have to give up the most expensive… Such a feint is likely. And here it is extremely important whether the Arabs will allow themselves to be convinced. After all, Biden himself has already demonstrated how easily the newly elected US president crosses out the decisions of his predecessor. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreements, and Biden brought everything back. But if Biden repeats the actions of Trump – where are the guarantees that his replacement will not repeat the actions of Biden himself? So, whichever way you look at it, the US president has a very delicate mission in the Middle East: to regain at least some of the trust from the countries of the region and come to terms with the loss of the role of the almighty hegemon.