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Russia’s Scavenger Diplomacy Is in Full Effect in the Middle East

| May 08, 2020

While most of the world has been on lockdown from the novel coronavirus, the wars and political machinations of the Middle East have continued. Amid this turmoil, Russia has been making steady progress in what State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus described as its “malign engagement” in the region.

The administration’s worries about Russia were voiced in an unusual on-the-record briefing Thursday by three senior State Department officials. Henry Wooster, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East, summed up the concerns this way: “The Kremlin uses . . . military power, proxies and disinformation . . . to expand its influence across the [Mediterranean].”

Russia has been opportunistic toward the conflicts in Syria and Libya, using a mercenary army known as the Wagner Group, run by a friend of President Vladimir Putin. The local combatants in these wars are exhausted, but efforts to negotiate peace deals have failed, as they have in Yemen. The result may be de facto partitions in all three countries — and frozen conflicts that leave the nations fragmented and vulnerable.

Russia is likely to emerge with several important military bases in the Mediterranean, achieving a centuries-old dream. Russian forces control Khmeimim air base and the port of Tartus in Syria, and they helped seize al-Ghardabiya air base near Sirte in Libya in January. “No one should think that Russia is going to pack up and leave now,” said Wooster.

Moscow’s hopes of bringing order to this fractious region have been no more successful than those of the United States. The “Astana process” failed to bring peace to Syria, and talk of a similar Russian-Turkish accord to stabilize Libya is probably doomed, too.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ignatius, David.“Russia’s Scavenger Diplomacy Is in Full Effect in the Middle East.” The Washington Post, May 8, 2020.

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