The New Master of the Middle East: Vladimir Putin

As many Americans’ attention is focused on North Korea, the specter of China as the background culprit of the crisis surrounding that nation has taken root, although it can be said that China is not the only enabler of North Korea as a rogue state. China is not the only country that would like to see the United States be forced to deal with a third-world nation that stands on the brink of being able to acquire and stockpile nuclear weapons.

As China has begun to give North Korea an ice-cold shoulder from a trading and economic standpoint to appease the U.S., Russia has quickly stepped in to take their place. Vladimir Putin and the Soviets have begun helping the North Korean regime of despot Kim Jong Un by selling the smaller state oil in violation of recent sanctions declared at the UN and by re-routing Internet traffic that previously flowed through China.

Elsewhere in the world, in early October, Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud made the first-ever visit by a leader of his country to Moscow, leading Bloomberg News to label Vladimir Putin “the new master of the Middle East.” Both nations had been hit hard by the fall of oil prices in mid-2014. Last November, these two largest producers of oil in the world agreed to cut their production in order for oil prices to rise.

The price of oil has now reached over $50 per barrel, and King Salman told Putin his country is “eager to continue the positive cooperation between our nations in the world oil market, which fosters global economic growth.” The two nations also launched an investment fund valued at $1 billion, which will include petrochemical and natural gas projects. There were also deals inked related to oil refining, drilling and research.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia pledged to invest $10 billion in the Russian economy over the following five years. The two countries have also agreed on cooperation in social development, investments, trade, information technology, agriculture and nuclear energy.

“We have a vast potential for developing cooperation in nuclear power. Saudi Arabia plans to launch a major nuclear power program,” said Aleksandr Novak, the co-chairman and energy minister of the Russian-Saudi Intergovernmental Commission.

“Nuclear power may become one of the basic power sources and an extra catalyst for the development of various industries and innovation technologies in Saudi Arabia.”

Along with the Saudi king, 85 chiefs of the largest Saudi private companies flew to Moscow to establish links with Russian businesses. Saudi Arabia has also agreed to buy Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles as well as contracting Russian help to further develop the kingdom’s military. This is despite the fact that the Saudis committed to buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American arms this past spring.

In the last year, Russia has also made deals with Turkey to sell that Eurasian country its S-400 missiles. Recently, Vladimir Putin flew to Ankara to dine with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to finalize the deal.

In Pakistan, an agreement was struck for the Southeast Asian nation to build a 600 megawatt power plant in cooperation with Russia and for Pakistan to buy defense equipment and helicopters from Vladimir Putin’s government. The two countries have held joint military exercises.

Whether Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are part of a long-term trend remains to be seen. According to Bloomberg, “The Israelis and Turks, the Egyptians and Jordanians — they’re all beating a path to the Kremlin in the hope that Vladimir Putin, the new master of the Middle East, can secure their interests and fix their problems. The latest in line is Saudi King Salman… American power in the region is perceptibly in retreat.”

This last assertion likely at least partially refers to Russian steadfastness in Syria, where the U.S. has mostly given up trying to fight the government of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in favor of trying to drive ISIS from the last of its strongholds there.

In this effort, Washington and Moscow see eye-to-eye, in theory. Russia’s influence in the region has increased “because [ex-American President] Obama allowed it to,” claims Khaled Batarfi, professor at the Jeddah, Saudi Arabian branch of Alfaisal University. “Unfortunately, Obama withdrew to a great extent from [the physical land of] the Middle East.” Whether President Trump will prolong this slow withdrawal in Syria is unclear.

Even though Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is 13 times smaller than America’s, “sometimes you have two boxers coming out to the ring — one is huge with bulging muscles, and the other is smaller, but nimble, and has a better technique,” says Alexander Zotov, the former Russian ambassador to Syria between 1989 and 1994.

“Washington’s power remains indispensable,” says Ayham Kamel, the director of North Africa and the Middle East at political risk consultancy The Eurasia Group. But the U.S.’s alliances with multiple nations are weakening; “The Kremlin is on everyone’s mind,” according to Bloomberg.

~ American Liberty Report