Author: Mihail Lavrov

Author: Mihail Lavrov

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.

Karabakh: Russia's victory that no one noticed

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Last week, the situation in Karabakh sharply escalated. Shots were fired again, there are dead and wounded. But before we consider these events and understand them, we need to figure out what preceded them. By mid-July, the situation was developing positively. The daily protests that had been going on in Armenia for many weeks gradually subsided; Pashinyan's government maintained control over the situation and continued to establish contacts with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Against this background, Baku has agreed with the EU on the prospects of increasing energy supplies to Europe. In parallel, active negotiations were held between Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Central Asian republics and Turkey on the development of transport corridors through the Caspian and Transcaucasia. At the same time, the thesis was clearly voiced that Armenia could profitably join these projects. All this allowed us to hope for gradual progress, the result of which was to be a complete normalization of the situation, the conclusion of a peace treaty between Yerevan and Baku, the unblocking of the Armenian-Turkish border, the creation of a basis for the development of transport arteries along the East-West and North-South lines. The main thing here was not to rush, not to adjust the processes artificially. The key issue, as before, is the status of Nagorno–Karabakh. It is clear to everyone, including Yerevan, that the territories that were ceded to Azerbaijan after the war remain his; the fate of the rest of Artsakh will be decided later, and with the obligatory consideration of Baku's interests. But the official, final recognition of this by Armenia is the most dramatic moment, the all–in, the point of no return. After this step, Armenia will become extremely vulnerable, anything can happen here. It is clear that there will be discontent. It is clear that the government will be sharply weakened. But it is not known what scale it will reach. And everything will depend on the game played by external forces: Russia, the EU, the USA, Turkey, Iran. For Yerevan , this question sounds something like this: who will give him guarantees of stability in the country? Who will provide support to the authorities in the inevitable clash with opponents (internal opposition, outraged Artsakh residents, external competing players)? In principle, such guarantees are provided by Russia and the CSTO. BUT! Russia alone, without coordination, at least with Turkey, Iran (and Azerbaijan), will not cope with this. To act without their consent is to create the foundations for a new conflict. And this is exactly what they are trying to achieve in the West in an effort to open a "second front" against the Russian Federation. At the same time, it is necessary to clearly understand what kind of conflict we can talk about: so far there has not been a direct clash between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a member of the CSTO. If – God forbid! – it happens, then the CSTO will be obliged to enter the war, which will lead to unpredictable, but extremely difficult consequences for everyone. That is why it is so important to achieve clear and guaranteed coordination between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But it takes time. There is no doubt that the Karabakh problem was discussed in Tehran during the summit of the Astana Troika (Russia–Iran–Turkey) on July 19. And it is likely that a certain consensus was reached there. The three countries apparently gave Yerevan the necessary guarantees. Otherwise, it is unlikely that the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, A. Grigoryan, would have declared publicly on July 20 that Armenia does not exclude the conclusion of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan without a final decision on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a very serious statement, which said that the Pashinyan government is ready to take a "step into the unknown", relying on the guarantees of the troika. In fact, this meant that the path to peace was open. The probability of this was all the more great because the European Union, which was also actively working in the Karabakh direction, was doing the same thing. So, in any case, it seemed when looking at the mission of the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, and Moscow, by the way, welcomed the efforts of Brussels. However, since the beginning of August, the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. First, ardent Armenian nationalists, Dashnaks, came from France to their homeland. Yerevan was forced to ban them from entering Armenia. This, of course, caused discontent in society, gave rise to accuse the government of anti-national policy. This was followed by reports about the mining of the Yerevan metro. They turned out to be false, but they did not give calmness. Knowledgeable people immediately cited the example of Moldova, where such "mining" of the capital's airport and state institutions continued daily for several weeks. And if in Chisinau they react calmly to this, then in Yerevan the consequences can be much more serious… And against this background, a sharp aggravation began in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh. And here it is appropriate to recall that in mid-July, the Head of the US CIA, Burns, unexpectedly arrived in Yerevan. It is not known what he talked about with Pashinyan. However, it would be logical to assume that the purpose of his visit was not so much to negotiate as to demonstrate Washington's benevolent attitude towards Armenia and Armenians in the face of the "Turks". In this context, it is very important that the United States skillfully manipulates the topic of the Armenian Genocide, supporting the illusion of a sincere pro-Armenian position in Armenia itself, in Karabakh, and in the Armenian diaspora around the world. American politicians do not stop even before the anger and indignation from NATO ally Turkey, regularly raising the issue of recognition of the Genocide. This game fuels the hopes of Armenian nationalists and other "irreconcilables", gives them a reason to talk about "relying on America" in the confrontation with the enemies of Armenia. And it is very possible that it was within the framework of this game that Burns' visit to Yerevan was carried out. He once again gave the "illusion of hope" to the "irreconcilable" in Karabakh. As far as one can judge, it was designed for the resumption of large-scale hostilities, followed by accusations against Russian peacekeepers (inefficiency, inability to fulfill the mission), their involvement in the conflict and accusations of bias. At the same time, steps were being prepared to involve Iran in military operations (in the wake of last year's events). As a result, there should have been a picture of the breakdown of the truce in the region due to the irresponsibility of Moscow and Tehran. This would be enough to achieve minimal goals: undermining Russian positions in Transcaucasia, worsening relations with Iran and Turkey (it is noteworthy that the situation in Iraq has escalated almost simultaneously, where Tehran and Ankara are vying for influence). If all this had escalated into a split of the Astana Troika and a new war in Karabakh, the maximum goal would have been achieved. Fortunately, this scenario didn't work. And this, without exaggeration, can be called an important victory for Russia. Of course, against the background of events around Ukraine, it is not too noticeable. But this does not detract from its significance. Apparently, Russian intelligence worked well: in parallel with Burns' visit to Yerevan, SVR chief Naryshkin visited Baku; it is quite possible that he informed the Azerbaijani side about the existing risks. At the same time, coordination between the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey did not allow the situation to get out of control. The intensity of the Kremlin's telephone contacts with Yerevan (two conversations in a week) is also noteworthy, as is Pashinyan's confident behavior inside the country. It is impossible not to note the consistent course of neighboring Georgia to maintain neutrality in the confrontation between the West and Russia. If Tbilisi's policy had had a different orientation, things could have gone much worse. In short, this time it can be stated that attempts at destabilization around Karabakh have been stopped. And this success needs to be consolidated and developed. What can we talk about? First of all, about changing the role of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, not only from a military point of view, but also in terms of political and ideological. It must be strengthened. The status of our servicemen as the main guarantors of the security of the region and its population should be indisputable. At the same time, effective security guarantees from the Azerbaijani forces should be created: Baku is obliged to prove its ability to work on the ground in the name of peace and establishing mutual trust. Without a doubt, it will not be easy, and here, too, the role of Russian peacekeepers is difficult to overestimate. A lot of responsibility will fall on Iran and especially Turkey. They should make every effort and show maximum flexibility to achieve positive results in unblocking borders and transport links, establishing trade and economic cooperation with Armenia and Karabakh. It is quite clear that the interests of Ankara and Tehran in the region differ. Therefore, it is important not to allow their rivalry (which cannot be avoided) to escalate into conflicts in which Baku and Yerevan will necessarily be involved. And, of course, all participants in the process are responsible for the stability of the internal political situation in Armenia. It is very fragile, and it is clear that the opponents of the settlement (both internal and external) will seek to undermine it.

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.

Gas or brake – which will Lebanon and Israel choose?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text The gas issue remains one of the most pressing in the Middle East. This time, attention was drawn to it by the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who called the gas reserves on the Lebanese shelf the basis for the development of the country and called on the Lebanese to unite for their development for the sake of the future. You can't argue with the sheikh, but there is a problem: the gas fields are located in an area disputed by Lebanon and Israel. The two countries have been formally at war since 1948, and the maritime borders between them have not been defined. The essence lies in the difference in the definition of the ceasefire line from 1949. They don't match on the maps of the two countries. According to the Israeli version, the line of the maritime border with Lebanon rests on the border of the Cypriot economic waters 15 kilometers north of the point on which Lebanon insists. Initially, when the gas fields on the Levantine shelf were just discovered, Beirut opposed their development without agreeing on maritime borders. However, his efforts, in particular, his appeal to the UN, remained in vain. And so far, for Lebanon, "to begin the development of deposits" means first of all to conclude an agreement on the maritime border. As for Israel, it simply ignores the problem from the very beginning: Tel Aviv, without any doubt, has been successfully developing production on Leviathan and Tamar for a long time. The same approach has been demonstrated to them now. Shortly after Hassan Nasrallah's statements, the Israelis drove a gas production platform to the area of the Karish field exactly on the disputed section of the border. In response, Hezbollah stated that it would not leave without reaction "Israel's violation of Lebanese sovereignty" and would act, including by force. However, a remarkable reservation was made: "if Israel and Lebanon do not reach an agreement on the border." That is, the issue of the border was put at the forefront, and not in general about the right of the "Zionist entity" unrecognized by Lebanon to dispose of the natural resources of the shelf. But it was quite possible to expect such a radical approach from Hezbollah. But no, the leading pro-Iranian force in Lebanon has demonstrated readiness for constructive dialogue. The only condition is the formal coordination of borders. The disputed area of the water area is 860 sq. km. Substantive negotiations between Beirut and Tel Aviv on this topic began in 2020 with the mediation of the United States. However, on them, the Lebanese side announced new claims for 2.3 thousand square kilometers, including the Karish field and another promising block. Naturally, they were rejected, and negotiations were curtailed. But in mid-June of this year, the parties returned to them. An American mediator, Amos Hochstein, appeared in the region. Beirut decided to abandon additional claims: they say, the previous government put them forward without thinking. And the Israeli Prime Minister (already former) Naftali Bennett called on the Lebanese government to start developing the shelf "within its exclusive economic zone", "seize the opportunity to improve its economy" and build "a better future for the Lebanese people." The words – note – are very similar to the rhetoric of Sheikh Nasrallah… Against this background, Hezbollah's position looks quite constructive and negotiating. After all, it boils down to the fact that "the main thing is to agree on the borders, without detailing which borders: taking into account the Lebanese claims to "Karish" or without them. At the same time, it seems that the prospects for negotiations depend primarily on whether Iran is ready to follow the previous logic of "normalization" with Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese platform. If so, progress on the Israeli-Lebanese border is possible, which will open up opportunities for Beirut to revive the half-dead economy and gradually revive the country. If not, Hezbollah will rise up against the "treacherous compliance" of the authorities and turn the maritime border into a new hotbed of tension.

Biden didn't arrive

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text US President Joe Biden has decided to postpone his long-announced visit to the Middle East. Previously, it was assumed that he would visit the region at the end of June, but now the deadline is July. The official reason is the heavy workload of the White House host's schedule on his trip to Europe. However, there is reason to believe that this is not the only problem. It is likely that Biden simply does not make sense to go: the program prepared by his diplomacy was not accepted by the partners. As far as can be judged, the strategic plan of the visit was to create a coalition of Arab States and Israel. The goal is to formalize a Sunni–Israeli alliance against Iran, as well as to involve the Arab world in an anti-Russian total sanctions war. But skillful actions Moscow and Tehran, on the one hand, and the deepening distrust of Middle Eastern countries towards the United States, on the other, upset this plan. It is easy to see that the central idea of the visit is a logical continuation of the strategy of the "Abraham agreements", initiated and promoted by the previous President Donald Trump. He positioned these agreements as the "deal of the century", the creator of which he rightfully felt himself. At the same time, it is important that one of the foundations of Trump's Middle East policy was to strengthen close ties with Saudi Arabia. A number of agreements on the supply of modern weapons worth billions of dollars were signed with Riyadh. It seems that the pinnacle of the strategy of "Abraham" should have been the consent of the KSA – the leader of the Arab and Islamic world – to recognize Israel. If it succeeded, Trump could well claim a place in History and the Nobel Peace Prize. Biden, who became a symbol of the complete rejection of "Trumpism", first of all destroyed the US-Saudi relations. He accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of killing Kashoggi (Hashukji), stopped (official) support for the actions of the KSA and the Saudi coalition in Yemen, froze arms contracts with Riyadh, withdrew air defense systems from the kingdom. And most importantly, he took a course to restore the "nuclear deal" with Iran terminated by Trump. It can be assumed that this was done within the framework of the strategy that was proposed Henry Kissinger: to turn Iran from the number one enemy into a "responsible" participant in the Middle East balance of power. It is not surprising that the Saudis did not like it, and as a result, Saudi-American relations turned out to be in the worst state in history. In the face of Washington's inconsistency and incompetence, Riyadh began to establish its own ties with Tehran on its own, in fact, engaging in work to form a dynamic balance of power in the region. Relations with Moscow, and especially with Beijing, are consistently strengthening. All this has become a clear sign of Washington's loss of control over the development of the regional situation. This circumstance has become even more obvious, and most importantly – unacceptable – in the new global conditions set by the Ukrainian crisis. America urgently needed allies in the Middle East, and the allies are disciplined, ready to follow orders coming from the White House. Actually, the American diplomacy was engaged in the urgent formation of such a group of allies. So, in March, a conference was organized with the participation of the foreign ministers of the United States, Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco. And it is quite likely that Washington then discovered that it had no new proposals, no new prospects with which it could captivate the Arabs, or rather, the KSA. He has only Kissinger's "regional dynamic equilibrium" plan and the "Abraham agreement" in stock. But the first one is morally outdated in conditions when discipline is needed. And the second ones are outdated, like the "Trump legacy". Nevertheless, the bet, apparently, was made on "Abraham": information appeared in the press that Biden was preparing another "historic deal" with the participation of Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Cairo. Its subject is the transfer of two islets (Tyran and Sanafir) at the exit from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea under the sovereignty of the KSA, which requires the consent of Israel and Egypt. And the meaning of the deal is the recognition of the Jewish state by the Custodian of the Two Shrines of Islam. In addition, a new conference was planned, this time at the top, between the United States, Israel and nine Arab countries: the six GCC, plus Jordan, Iraq, Egypt. If successful, it could be a truly impressive victory for American diplomacy. But it did not take place. At least it's postponed. And, frankly, there is no serious reason to believe that it will take place. Why? Firstly, because according to the Tyrant and Sanafir, even in Israel they hinted to the Americans not to fuss. Like, we'll figure it out ourselves, we have enough competencies for this, and you're just muddying the water. And secondly, the expansion of the "Abraham agreements" to the KSA now seems almost impossible. The fact is that for Tehran, this will be evidence of Riyadh's refusal to normalize relations with Iran and will give the Iranians carte blanche to deploy anti-Saudi, anti-American, anti-Israeli activity on all fronts. Riyadh has already moved too far towards establishing a dialogue with Tehran. You can turn back, but the price is unlikely to be acceptable. We will have to destroy the unspoken agreements already reached on Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. But the KSA depends much more on the situation in these areas than on the state (quite stable and predictable) of its relations with Israel or even on relations with the United States (which are so impulsive and treacherous and which, as it turned out, can be replaced – in part – by China). The threats that Saudi Arabia may face if it agrees to "Abraham" can be judged by the following facts. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a law according to which recognition of Israel is punishable by life imprisonment or death penalty. It was initiated by Muqtada al-Sadr, the main Iranian protege in Baghdad, and adopted unanimously (!) – despite the fact that the deputies have not been able to form a government and elect a president for the eighth month. Such unanimity indicates that Iran (through al-Sadr and its other clients) is in full control of the situation in Iraq. So any wrong move on the part of Riyadh will lead to an explosion. A similar law is now being prepared for adoption by the Houthi parliament in Yemen. This means that the accession of the KSA to the "Abraham agreements" will blow up the truce here as well. The situation is about the same in Lebanon. The "anti-Abrahamic" law is not being discussed there yet, but the pro-Iranian Hezbollah is capable of blowing up this country as well. To complete the picture: the Government of Oman made a sharp and unequivocal condemnation of the "Abraham agreements". It is curious that this happened literally in the wake of the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Muscat. All this means that for Saudi Arabia, any steps towards the US demands to normalize relations with Israel are associated with huge and unjustified risks. Washington is not able to stop them. That is why it seems extremely unlikely that Biden's Middle East venture will succeed. After all, without the participation of the KSA, it will simply be emasculated. Against this background, the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the Gulf, who visited Bahrain and the KSA, where he participated in the fifth session of the Russian Federation–GCC strategic dialogue at the ministerial level, looks very remarkable. Judging by the stinginess of comments on these negotiations, they did not achieve any "breakthroughs". Yes, they were hardly planned. The main thing is that we managed to prevent a "break", that is, to preserve the relations themselves and the positive dynamics of their development. And with "breakthroughs" it is not worth rushing. We need to give Americans time to get even more confused and lose even more. Photo: nbcnews.com

Lebanon and the next Middle East triangle

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text It is formed by Saudi Arabia – Iran – Israel. In mid-May, the long-awaited elections to the local parliament were held in Lebanon. Their results, of course, will be of crucial importance not only for this long-suffering country, but also for the entire Middle East. Lebanon is one of the sites of confrontation between two powerful players – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their rivalry lies, by and large, at the heart of all the troubles, conflicts, crises tearing Lebanon apart. If we proceed from this circumstance, we can conclude that the very fact of the elections testifies to the mutual desire of Riyadh and Tehran to find a way out of the Lebanese impasse. Against the background of the contacts they established in Baghdad and the truce in Yemen, this looks completely logical: The KSA and the IRI are looking for opportunities to normalize their relations in radically changed global and regional conditions. The results of the Lebanese elections are known: a new balance has been established between the two leading camps. It is unstable and inconclusive; its future depends on the behavior of "independent" deputies, whose number has increased significantly. This result was achieved due to the retreat of the pro-Iranian forces led by Hezbollah, which lost control of the majority in parliament. This retreat was clearly coordinated and organized. Otherwise, the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, would not have gone for a quick and conflict-free recognition of the results of the vote. At the same time, it is fundamentally important to understand that this would be unthinkable without preliminary agreements between Tehran and Riyadh and without appropriate mutual guarantees. Their probable content: Iran refrains from aggressive actions, does not use the remaining power advantage of Hezbollah and gives it greater freedom of maneuver; Saudi Arabia does not seek to further weaken Hezbollah or defeat it in order to establish its own hegemony. The exchange of such guarantees is possible only if there are common, quite specific interests. And Sheikh Nasrallah made the first hint the other day about the possible content of these interests. He called on the Lebanese to unite and work together to revive and develop the state. He called the oil and gas fields on the Lebanese shelf a source of resources for development. This is extremely important, because the Eastern Mediterranean shelf is turning into one of the central geopolitical problems around which the entire regional situation will develop. Solving this incredibly complex problem will require virtually a complete restructuring of the entire regional structure. One of the most "innovative" features of such a new structure is the status of a Mediterranean power, which Iran should receive as part of the implementation of Sheikh Nasrallah's idea. Moreover, with the support of the KSA. The development of the situation in this direction hardly suits Israel. Iran's access to the Mediterranean Sea is a true "nightmare" for Israel, no less (if not more) worse than the Iranian nuclear missile threat. Therefore, Tel Aviv's desire to prevent the implementation of this scenario and the opposition to Iranian-Saudi coordination in Lebanon may become one of the main trends determining the development of the regional situation. However, what can Tel Aviv do? Strike a blow to the Iran-Saudi balance in Lebanon? But this will once again expose him as a "malicious aggressor" and draw him into another large–scale and dangerous military campaign, because Hezbollah is by no means a paper tiger. In addition, Israel's next Lebanon war will disrupt the process initiated by the "Abraham agreements" on "normalization" with Arab countries, and will call into question the establishment of strategically significant relations with Turkey. Such an adventure will once again put Israel "outside the law" in the region, deprive it of the opportunity to offer the Middle East its vision of a joint future. This will mean a strategic defeat, even if at the moment it turns out to disrupt the Iranian plans. At a time when Washington's support for Israel is by no means guaranteed, such a move looks reckless. Tel Aviv cannot fail to understand this, and there, apparently, they are making a choice in favor of more subtle actions aimed at upsetting the emerging Iranian-Saudi balance. We are talking about intensifying efforts aimed at involving Riyadh in the process of Israeli-Arab "normalization". So the question arose about two islands in the Red Sea – Tirana and Sanafir. They belong to the KSA and control the exit of the Israeli fleet from the Gulf of Aqaba. Tel Aviv insists that a special trilateral agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt be concluded on them. Its signing will mean the actual and legal recognition of Israel by Riyadh, which is what the Israelis are striving for. There is no doubt that the Israelis themselves and their new friends in the Gulf (UAE) are strongly advertising the benefits that the KSA can receive if it joins the "Abraham agreements": access to Israeli technologies, the possibility of creating a joint air defense-missile defense system, prospects for investment in the development of the Mediterranean shelf… At the same time, it is no less likely that the Saudis are also under pressure of a different nature: the demonstrative "liquidations" carried out by the Israeli special services in Iran cannot remain without attention in Riyadh. They probably understand that no Saudi politician, businessman or officer can feel safe: the Mossad is able to eliminate anyone. Especially if this "anyone" is connected with Iran. For its part, Tehran is also putting pressure on Riyadh. Apparently, while remaining faithful to certain agreements, he does not escalate either in Iraq, Yemen, or (as we have seen) in Lebanon. But he makes it clear that Saudi Arabia is not the only country in the Gulf with which Iran can do business. The alternative is Qatar, whose emir held very fruitful talks in the Iranian capital. And the subsequent visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to the Sultanate of Oman became a clear demonstration that the Iranians broke the blockade in the Gulf and that "normalization" with Iran enjoys no less, if not more popularity among local monarchs. In this context, of course, Iran-Qatar relations are of particular interest, since Doha is quite capable of "outbid" Saudi clients, taking the place of Riyadh, for example, in the same Lebanon. It can even be assumed that such attempts have already been made and for the sake of their suppression, a scandal was arranged with the Lebanese Minister Cordahi: with his help, the Saudis brought order to the circles focused on the different capitals of the Gulf, and led them to swear allegiance exclusively to Riyadh. But if Doha offers more favorable terms, discipline and the oath will not work. But not only in Lebanon, Saudi interests may be threatened by the duet of Iran and Qatar. This is also possible in Syria, where Tehran is able to strengthen its position against the background of a reduction in the Russian military presence, which is already being recorded by the Arabs. Qatar is able to play the role of mediator between Iran and Turkey and together with them reduce Saudi influence here to nothing. If we take into account that in recent years Riyadh has practically lost its traditional support from Washington and there are no hopes for rapid improvement here, then it becomes obvious: the KSA is now in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the kingdom is very interested in "normalization" with Iran in order to get rid of the unbearable burden of rivalry with it. Otherwise, we will have to exist in a ring of conflicts (Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon), without having the strength either to manage them or to resolve them. On the other hand, it is necessary to somehow build your relations with Israel: either go for "nomalization" with it - but then you will have to forget about Iran and actually turn into an Arab vassal of Tel Aviv. Or refuse to openly "normalize" with the Jewish state and play a double game, balancing between it and the Iranian Shiites. This role is neither to the face nor on the shoulder of Saudi Arabia, but nevertheless, it seems that it will be forced to play it, at least in the near future. The chances of success may appear if Riyadh manages to convince the Israelis of its ability to control Iran's activity, in particular, in Lebanon (as well as in Iraq, Yemen and Syria), and, if necessary, to restrain it. So Saudi strategists and diplomats will have to prove that they are no worse than their Emirati and Qatari counterparts.

Will the Union State become a new international fashion?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text The Union State (SG) of Russia and Belarus, which traces its lineage back to 1996, when the Treaty on the Establishment of a Community of two states was signed, still remains a mystery in many ways. The purpose of its creation is, of course, clear and obvious: the preservation of a single economic and defense space. However, the international legal framework, as well as the practical content of this project, lack this clarity: is it a federation, a confederation, a single state or a union of two sovereign states? There is no definite answer. Nevertheless, the SG exists and functions. And it seems that in the modern world, where too much is becoming conditional, where concepts and norms that seemed unshakable are rapidly being eroded, this form of foreign policy interaction may be in great demand. The main advantage of such a model is its flexibility, freedom from formal ties and conventions, and the ability to adapt to specific and rapidly changing circumstances. First of all, this concerns the strategic, military-political sphere, where the speed of reaction, the ability to manifest and retain initiative is more important than the size of the total potential, "combat power" and the presence of a large number of allies. There is no doubt that a large military alliance can give confidence in security. But being bulky and clumsy, it does not allow you to act quickly, and being multilateral, it binds you hand and foot. If we assess the development of the situation around Ukraine from this point of view, then we can see the reasonableness and effectiveness of using the mechanisms of the Union State, and not, say, the CSTO. And this is despite the fact that Moscow and Minsk are opposed by bloc structures – NATO and the EU. Against the background of these "monsters", the two-part SG model looks more practical and flexible. Greatly simplifying, one can compare such a model with the "rapid reaction forces", and a large military-political bloc with a classic army, powerful but clumsy and requiring too much effort to bring it into a combat–ready state. It cannot be said that Russia and Belarus are the discoverers of such a binary model. For example, back in the early 90s, France and Germany tried to create a kind of military-political formation - within the NATO bloc. From there, by the way, the legs of Paris' current aspiration for the "strategic independence" of Europe are growing. But that experiment failed: it did not meet with understanding either in Europe or in Washington. But Moscow and Minsk are still doing business. And their example seems to be able to interest someone. In particular, Poland, which has already put forward the initiative to create a "space without borders" with Ukraine (or with what remains of it). This idea of Warsaw was perceived in Russia as evidence of the desire of the Poles to "chop off" part of the neighboring country. Well, not without that. However, it seems that the point here is not in the territorial issue, but in the creation of its own "union state" according to the Russian-Belarusian model. In case of success, a certain formation will arise on the border with Russia, a common Polish-Ukrainian "defense space" that will not be connected by formal ties with NATO and its discipline and procedures. The prospect is very dangerous, because such a "space" will become a potential source of instability, provocations, for which NATO will not be responsible, but it will be extremely difficult to call Warsaw or Kiev to account for them: the North Atlantic Bloc will be behind them, after all… That is, it is impossible to exclude the occurrence of a situation in which Warsaw will be able to use the territory of Ukraine for the purpose of military provocations against Russia. And even if, for example, Berlin, Paris, any other NATO capitals oppose this, the Poles will not even lead an ear: everything happens outside the bloc, it's none of your business. But any response from Russia aimed at the "common defense space" will be regarded as an attack on a member of the bloc with all the ensuing consequences. It is curious that at the same time Poland will be able to rely on the precedents developed by another NATO state – Turkey, which conducts completely independent military activities in Syria, Iraq, Libya – countries that are not in the area of responsibility of the alliance. From an international legal point of view, they are no different from Ukraine. This means that Turkey's course of action is quite applicable in the case of Poland: invading neighboring territories in the name of "protecting its security", Ankara acts as an independent player and does not ask the opinion of either Brussels or Berlin. But at the same time, of course, no one forgets that Turkey is a member of NATO, and an invasion of its territory will trigger the corresponding article of the Alliance's Charter. However, this is not all. Turkey itself can also enrich its strategy using the model of the Union State and the "common defense space". Azerbaijan can become a partner. This does not seem improbable, especially after Baku's victory in the Second Karabakh War, achieved thanks to Ankara's full military support. If the concept of the Turkish-Azerbaijani common defense space is implemented, it will create a completely new geopolitical situation throughout the southern borders of Russia – from the Black Sea to the steppes of Kazakhstan. And again, the formula will apply here: aggression, provocation against Russia is a "private" initiative; Russia's response to provocation means aggression against the entire NATO bloc. I would like to make a mistake, but the prospect of the appearance of "allied states" and "common defense spaces" with the participation of NATO powers on our western and southern borders seems very likely and extremely dangerous. To complete the picture, Romania and Moldova can be added to their list, although this particular project seems relatively less likely. In all such cases, the main problem for Russia is not only and not so much in direct threats, the source of which may be such "union states". The real danger is that they reproduce the situation of a yard fight, where the provocateur is a relatively weak, junior hooligan, behind whom is a group of jocks. They stand on the sidelines and do not interfere – as long as the younger one is not dealt back properly. Then they enter the arena and beat without pity under the seemingly flawless slogan "don't touch the little ones!"  

Algeria – Russia's strategic stake

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text In early April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced an imminent visit to Algeria. "We say "better late than never." But I will proceed from your logic, "the sooner the better," he told his Algerian counterpart Ramtan Lamamre, who was in Moscow as part of the delegation of the League of Arab States (LAS). These words clearly indicate that Russia and Algeria urgently need to discuss very important issues that require coordination of efforts. Moreover, Russia has long been ready for this ("better late than never"), and Algeria is only now "ripe" and needs quick solutions ("the sooner the better"). It seems that we are talking about developing a new action program in a number of areas, in fact, a joint strategy for the coming period. The most important problem for Algeria is the rivalry with Morocco for leadership in the Maghreb. In recent months, the situation here has undergone significant changes. Thus, Rabat achieved recognition of its sovereignty by prominent European players, primarily Spain, which was initially involved in solving the problem of Western Sahara. Madrid abruptly changed its position and in early March approved the Moroccan plan for the autonomy of the Western Saharan provinces as part of the Fatimid kingdom. This naturally led to the recall of the Algerian ambassador from the Spanish capital, and also had a generally negative impact on the overall state of Algeria's relations with Europe. After all, none of the Europeans condemned the Spanish demarche. Algeria's relations with the United States also developed negatively. At the end of March, the head of the US State Department visited the country Anthony Blinken, who toured the region. At the same time, the organization of his visit was perceived here almost as an insult: Blinken flew to Algeria from Rabat and flew there just six hours later, while he spent the night on Moroccan territory twice. This gesture speaks more eloquently than any words about the priorities of American policy in the region. Indeed, Rabat received assurances from the United States of the stability of the supply of new weapons; in addition, Israel joined the efforts to support the Moroccan military potential. All this has left Algeria in no doubt that a new escalation in the Maghreb is inevitable and, therefore, it is urgently necessary to build up its own muscles. The development of the situation around the Algerian borders is also pushing for this. In fact, the country found itself in a ring of instability: in the west – Morocco and Western Sahara, in the east – Libya, in the south – Mali, where the French with their operation "Barkhan" They have stirred up a hornet's nest of Islamist terrorists and Tuareg rebels, and Niger, where the same Frenchmen moved after their shameful expulsion from Mali and where the same scenario can be expected to repeat. In these difficult conditions, Algeria does not have the opportunity to turn to its seemingly most natural partner – Paris. Relations with the former metropolis are in a bad state because of France's inappropriate, according to Algerians, and clumsy attempts to recall its former dominance in Africa. In Algeria, as well as in Mali, these attempts were received with extreme irritation, which is unlikely to be overcome in the near future. Against this background, Russia looks like the only reliable and time-tested ally, cooperation with which allows Algeria to be confident in its abilities in the face of the many challenges it faces. It is hardly a coincidence that, just before Anthony Blinken's visit to Algeria, talks were held in Moscow between the leadership of Algerian intelligence Noureddine Macri and the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. At the same time, the parties "confirmed the unchangeable nature of the strategic partnership relations between Russia and Algeria." The most important component of this partnership is the supply of Russian weapons, thanks to which Algeria has the most powerful army in the North African region. The volume of military-technical cooperation between the countries is measured in billions of dollars and there is every reason to believe that they will grow. The dynamics of the situation around Western Sahara leaves Algeria no other choice. Joint military exercises of the two states are becoming a new area of cooperation in the field of security. For the first time they were held last year on Russian territory. In November of this year, the second such maneuvers will take place, already in Algeria. Although they are still limited in nature, nevertheless, such exercises can make a significant contribution to the creation of an anti-terrorist barrier on the eastern and southern borders of the country. In the current conditions of extreme instability of world markets due to the sanctions war unleashed by the West against Russia, cooperation in two other important areas, namely, in the energy and food sectors, is of particular importance. Since the EU intended to abandon the import of Russian energy carriers, it faced the problem of replacing them, primarily due to supplies from the Middle East and North Africa, located near Europe. The Americans have taken it upon themselves to convince the Arabs to join the sanctions war against the Russian Federation and increase the production and export of oil and gas to Europe. But, surprisingly, they did not meet with understanding even from their seemingly closest allies on the Arabian Peninsula. Some hopes were pinned on Iran, with which Washington was ready to renegotiate the "nuclear deal". But this number did not pass. Algeria remained. It seems that Washington understood perfectly well that it would not be possible to persuade him, not only because of his traditional sympathy for Russia, but also because of acute geopolitical differences over Western Sahara. However, Anthony Blinken made such an attempt during his visit – apparently for the sake of clearing his conscience – and was refused. True, Algeria does not mind making good money on the current situation: just the other day Italy signed a contract with it for oil supplies designed to mitigate the consequences of the European embargo on "black gold" from Russia. It is possible that this will somehow help the Italians, but Algeria is definitely not able to satisfy the "energy hunger" of Europe, even if it tried. Thus, there is a situation in which revenues from Algeria's oil and gas exports have increased many times and are likely to grow in the foreseeable future. At the same time, it will maintain a favorable balance of the global energy market for Russia, in which Europe does not receive any real hopes for the success of its blockade of Russian hydrocarbons. This position, apparently, will be appreciated in Moscow, whose gratitude can be expressed in providing truly invaluable assistance in the most relevant direction today - food. After all, as it is now quite clear, the events around Ukraine have triggered the mechanism of the global food crisis, which will hit Arab and African countries the hardest. Algeria is no exception. Of course, the degree of its dependence on grain imports is not as great as, for example, Egypt. Nevertheless, any prolonged shortage of basic foodstuffs will inevitably undermine socio-political stability and revive the specter of the "Arab Spring", which the country's authorities have repeatedly coped with with such difficulty. To plunge once again into the abyss of mass riots will mean for Algeria to lose in the rivalry of Morocco. This is unacceptable for him. And, perhaps, the only thing that can protect him from this danger is the supply of Russian food at preferential prices. Russia has already increased such supplies to Algeria more than twice last year. Probably, the consolidation and further development of this trend was discussed at the talks of the Algerian delegation at the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation at the end of March – about the same days when Blinken visited Algeria. If this is the case, then Russia has every chance to actually become a guarantor of stability in the largest North African country and consolidate its presence in the Arab world, in the Mediterranean and on the African continent. As a result, Algeria may turn into a truly strategic ally of Moscow during a critical period of transition of the world system of relations to a new quality. Photo: brookings.edu/

Russia will get access to the Red Sea

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text In late February – early March, one of the most influential people in Sudan, Mohammed Hamdan Daklo, better known in the Arab world as Hmeidti, visited Russia. He holds the second most important post in the power hierarchy of the Sudan, being the Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council of the Republic. Hmeidti is a very interesting and colorful personality. He began his career in his native Darfur (western Sudan) as a commander of a small detachment accompanying caravans of traders plying between Sudan, Egypt, Libya and Chad. Having earned authority, connections and good capital on this, Khmeidti became one of the founders of an entire irregular army – the famous Janjaweed. With such a force behind him, he became part of the country's top leadership and army command. Being one of the closest associates of Abdelfattah al-Burhan, who led the military coup last fall, Daklo, apparently, is now responsible for building a new system of international relations in Khartoum. Apparently, the Sudanese military has no illusions about the prospects of winning the sympathy of the West, which sharply criticized their actions and relies on the destabilization of the situation in the country and the escalation of the conflict between various Sudanese factions. Therefore, the interest shown by Khartoum in the topic of resuming cooperation with Moscow became completely logical. The program of General Daklo's visit was very eventful. Suffice it to say that he was accompanied by the Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, Minerals, and energy. Khmeidti himself was received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and also participated in a working meeting with representatives of Russian business at the CCI site. This alone speaks quite eloquently about the seriousness of the intentions of both the Sudanese and Russian sides, their focus on developing truly large-scale cooperation. But even more significant was the fact that the negotiations in Moscow were not affected by the situation around Ukraine and the beginning of the Russian special operation in this country. The Sudanese delegation arrived in the Russian capital on February 22 and left it on March 2. Thus, it was made clear that Khartoum is distancing itself from Western efforts to isolate Russia in the world and does not intend to make its interests dependent on one or another position of the United States and its allies regarding the events in Ukraine. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the Sudan expresses the common opinion of the Arab States on this issue. For Russia, this circumstance is of great importance, especially given the growing interest of our country in promising areas of interaction with the Arab-African world. Moscow has long sought to establish close relations with Sudan, bearing in mind the potential for developing cooperation in the fields of energy, mining, and agriculture. This latter area, without any doubt, will take one of the leading places in bilateral cooperation against the background of a sharp increase in world prices for food and, especially, fertilizers, of which Russia is the largest exporter. Providing Sudan with preferential terms for the purchase of Russian grain and fertilizers in the current conditions will help to avoid the constant threat of mass starvation and can become a significant contribution to ensuring social stability in this Arab African country exhausted by coups. Sudan – along with Egypt, Algeria, the Central African Republic, and Mali – is considered in Moscow as one of the key states on the Black continent, partnership relations with which will allow Russia to expand the horizons of its foreign policy and strengthen its presence in this part of the world. Including the military, because security issues are extremely acute here. And, as is already obvious, it is necessary to take care of ensuring the safety of transport routes and the freedom of navigation of vessels under the Russian flag, otherwise the West is about to revive privateering, having exhausted the possibilities of "peaceful" sanctions. In this context, the issue of establishing a Russian naval base on the Sudanese coast of the Red Sea is of particular importance. An agreement on this was reached during the time of President Omar al-Bashir, but after his overthrow, the new "democratic" authorities in Khartoum announced the freezing of the project, hinting at its inconsistency with Sudanese interests. However, after they, in turn, were pushed out of power by the military, the issue of the Russian base was again actualized. This topic was of most interest to the journalists who met General Daklo on his return from Moscow. To their questions, he replied that there are many states in Africa where foreign military bases are located, and he does not understand why the possibility of a Russian base in Sudan attracts so much attention. What is it really about? It is planned to create a naval station in Port Sudan, designed for the repair and refueling of ships of the Russian Navy (including ships with nuclear propulsion systems), as well as to replenish their stocks and change crews. At the same time, no more than four warships could be here at the same time, as well as up to 300 military and civilian personnel. To provide the base with everything necessary, including materials, equipment, weapons, ammunition, food, etc., Russia would have the right to use other ports and airfields on Sudanese territory. This base will complement and strengthen existing bases in Syrian Latakia, Tartus and Khmeimim, becoming the most important Russian stronghold in Northeast Africa and the Middle East, reopening for Moscow the possibility of a direct presence in the strategically important region of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa. Russia's presence here as a strong and responsible player can significantly affect the recovery and stabilization of the situation, which is steadily heating up due to the rivalry of regional states, fueled by external players. Examples are the periodically erupting internal conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia, the creeping spread of Islamist terrorism in the countries of East and South-East Africa, the long-running dispute over Ethiopia's construction of a giant dam "Renaissance". Under these conditions, active military-technical cooperation with Russia, of which the base in Port Sudan should become a part, can become a sufficient guarantee of maintaining the stability of Sudan, the key to its successful development. Khartoum is well aware that in today's extremely turbulent international situation, it is hopeless to seek security guarantees in an alliance with the United States and the West as a whole. The events in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, as well as in the CAR, Mali have shown that the West is powerless. He himself admits that his power is only enough for catastrophic destabilization, for destruction; he is not able to create something durable and viable. Sudanese politicians have already got Washington to remove Sudan from the list of states that are accomplices of terrorism. This, apparently, is the maximum that America could do really useful. At the same time, Khartoum fulfilled the main condition of the Americans – it recognized Israel and began the process of normalizing relations with it. Thus, he expanded the horizons of his foreign policy, enlisted the support of such influential countries as Israel and the UAE. At the same time, ties with Turkey, which received a naval base on the Sudanese coast, were significantly strengthened. All this speaks to the pragmatism of the Sudanese strategists, who quite rightly considered that a unilateral orientation to the West deprives them of prospects and opportunities for maneuver. However, neither Turkey, nor the Emirates, nor Israel have sufficient qualities to become a strategic, anchor partner. All of them are somehow connected with the United States, whose behavior in the region is extremely unpredictable. While Russia itself is a powerful pole in global politics, it can also act as a strategic partner of China in the implementation of the global Belt and Road initiative, which is being joined by more and more new states around the world. From this point of view, Sudan's return to the idea of opening a Russian base on its territory acquires logic and meaning that go far beyond the banal bargaining: we are bases for you, you are money for us and guarantees of regime stability. Which, of course, is present. But, in addition, wider horizons are opening up than the merciful removal of the label "accomplice of terrorists".

A queue of Middle Eastern ministers lined up in China (machine translation)

While the West and Russia were sorting out their relations (and Russia was also saving Kazakhstan from the invasion of terrorists), China organized "open days" for guests from the Middle East. During the past week, the foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, Iran, as well as the Secretary General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf (GCC) visited China. At the same time, the Chinese signed agreements with Syria and Morocco on the implementation of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, and with Iraq – a contract for the construction of the largest oil refinery in the region. The Arabs of the Gulf were the first to be accepted in the Middle Kingdom. They spent five days here – from Monday to Friday. Which in itself is unusual: as a rule, foreign ministers do not leave their capitals for a long time, a day and a half is enough for them to negotiate. And here – almost a whole week away! Apparently, there were a lot of topics for very serious discussions… And who knows who they managed to see in the Chinese hinterland (they were received not in Beijing, but in the town of Wuxi – there are not even a million inhabitants in it – in Jiangsu province)… In the reports (rather stingy on details) about the negotiations, special emphasis was placed on the collective nature of the visit of the four Arab ministers and the Secretary General of the GCC, which was supposed to demonstrate the unity of this organization. This plan partially succeeded: a joint communique was adopted, which discussed the "need to establish strategic partnership relations" between the Gulf Council and the PRC, as well as the "early start of negotiations" on the creation of a free trade zone. However, this document was the result of bilateral negotiations between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and GCC Secretary General Naif al-Najraf. Meetings with each of the four Arab ministers were held in the same separate mode. No joint meetings were reported, group photos were not published. There is reason to believe that this circumstance – as well as the absence of representatives of Qatar and the UAE in the Arab delegation – indicates the problems that persist in the ranks of the Gulf Council, despite the efforts that were made on the eve and during the recent 42nd summit of the organization (which we have already written about earlier). So, it seems that disagreements with Qatar have not been eliminated, and Doha is not ready to act on the same front with its brothers and neighbors in such a serious and responsible matter as establishing a strategic partnership with a new global power – the PRC. As for the Emirates, the situation is somewhat different here. Abu Dhabi prefers to pursue an increasingly independent policy without regard for its neighbors and especially for the traditional regional leader - Saudi Arabia. So with Beijing, the UAE has developed its own system of relations, perhaps the most advanced among the Arab states of the Gulf. But it was here that a very serious failure occurred. The fact is that the Chinese comrades received permission from the Emirati authorities to build a huge commercial port and immediately set to work. However, recently, American intelligence suddenly discovered that this port could well be used as a military base. Washington demanded to stop the construction, which the Emirates immediately complied with. The Chinese did not make a fuss (yet). But all the same, after such an embarrassment, it was inconvenient to go to visit them: I would have to hide my eyes, throw up my hands, sigh and mutter, they say, "we'll figure something out." Note along the way that the Americans have recently discovered that China seems to be helping Saudi Arabia to establish the production of ballistic missiles. What this story may lead to is not yet clear… Whatever it was, but the multi-day visit of the Arab ministerial delegation to the Celestial Empire demonstrated to the whole world that Beijing intends to take full advantage of the situation generated by the inability of the United States to maintain its hegemony in the Gulf and in the Middle East as a whole. At the same time, he can be sure that the Arabian monarchies need him much more than he needs them. For the main thing that he offers them is not only and not so much investment, technology or a free trade zone. And not even weapons or security guarantees. The main thing is the opportunity to integrate into a global strategy that could provide a new generation of sheikhs with a sense of existence, a conscious connection with the future. Half a century ago, America gave the founding fathers of the oil principalities a place and a role in its global strategy, the expiration date of which, apparently, is expiring. Today, Beijing is claiming Washington's place, having managed to formulate its own alternative truly global and truly strategic vision of the world and its development prospects. And in this he is ahead of the Anglo-Saxons, whose concept of the future is just beginning to take more or less clear outlines: the "green agenda", opposition to China (AUCUS) and Russia, the fight against the threat of new epidemics, minority rights… The Chinese proposal looks more practical and pragmatic, less politicized. But the Anglo–Saxon one comes from traditional patrons - patrons whose methods and interests are already familiar, understandable, familiar. As a result, the Arabs face a difficult choice. But the Chinese will not let them think for a long time. Firstly, on January 13, a memorandum on Syria's accession to the "One Belt, One Road" initiative was signed in Damascus. And a week before that, the same document was signed with Morocco. This clearly indicates the firmness and inevitability of China's intentions. And secondly, Beijing has clearly shown that in addition to the Arabs in the Middle East, there is someone to deal with: during the five days that the Arabian ministers visited China, their colleagues from Turkey and Iran visited the Celestial Empire. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived in Usi on Wednesday, January 12. The main results of his talks with Wang Yi were the confirmation that Ankara does not intend to participate in the drawing of the "Uighur card" in Western relations with China. At the same time, the Chinese side expressed hope that Turkey will make efforts to ensure that other Islamic countries take a similar position on the Uighur issue. For its part, China promised to increase the volume of imports of Turkish goods (which is very important, given the problems that the Turkish economy is experiencing now). And on Friday (the last day of the Arabs' stay), Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Iranian Foreign Minister, arrived for talks with Wang Yi. His visit was provided with special information support: his article was published in the Chinese press, where the relations of the PRC and Iran were considered as the relations of two of the world's oldest civilizations. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the prospects for the implementation of the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement (Comprehensive Cooperation Plan) concluded by the two countries, designed for 25 years. This agreement was signed last year, but it was put into effect following the negotiations between Wang Yi and Hossein Abdollahian. Little is known about its content, except that it covers the areas of economic, trade, investment cooperation, as well as the areas of security, military and political interaction. In any case, it is clear that Iran is opening China a wide access to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea region, which the countries of the Arab Gulf coast will have to reckon with. Other international players who have their stakes in the region will have to reckon with this, including the United States, Britain and Russia, which has made a lot of efforts to regain its position in the Middle East. In political and military terms, this has largely succeeded. The same cannot be said about the economy. It seems that China is going to get the main economic benefits from the change in the situation in the region, creating a solid foundation for its long-term presence here. Of course, Russian companies are also getting new opportunities, rediscovering the markets of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, expanding cooperation with Iran and exploring new horizons in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. But this is truly a drop in the ocean compared to what China is trying to achieve, which has not fired a single shot and has not sent a single soldier to the land of the Middle East. It seems that the time is coming to work on combining Chinese and Russian strategies in this region. Beijing should understand that the advantages of its position depend to a very large extent on the military-political role of Russia. Moscow has an equally developed and effective network of influence, and without taking into account its interests, it will be problematic to maintain stability and security here at the level necessary to build a bright future according to Chinese projects. But the first step is for Russia. It needs to clearly define and formulate its interests – in this case, primarily economic – in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.