MOSCOW – After the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin was busy showing off his newly won status as a regional referee.
On January 7, just days after the airstrike that killed the powerful Iranian officer, Putin flew to Damascus, Syria, to meet with his counterpart Bashar Assad. Russian jets entered the Syrian civil war for the first time more than four years ago and resolutely turned the conflict in favor of the embattled Syrian president. At the time, it was considered an important reproach for US politics and a foreign policy coup for Moscow. Both assessments continued.
After his trip to Damascus, Putin flew through Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the initial conflict with Erdogan over Syria, Putin has managed to build close ties with his Turkish counterpart and use Ankara’s tensions with Washington to undermine American policy, pursue Russian goals, and NATO cohesion through arms sales in the To undermine Turkey.
To top it off, Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Moscow on January 11 to discuss the situation between the United States and Iran.
The West’s reluctance to share technology continues to drive Turkey into Russian orbit
Putin’s movements since U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the air raid on Soleimani have underlined one of the most important trends in the Middle East: Russia’s star rises as the U.S. stands and falls in the region.
Putin has made substantial profits on the world stage by resolutely using limited resources and by making mistakes or withdrawing from the United States.
At first glance, the situation between the United States and Iran seems to offer Putin similar opportunities to depose Washington as Iraq’s preferred partner. The Trump administration killed Soleimani while the general was on a trip to Iraq. In response, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling on the U.S. military to vacate Iraqi bases used by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic group in Syria. It is unclear whether a withdrawal will take place, but US-Iraq relations have been the main victim in Trump’s major conflict with Iran so far.
However, some analysts doubt that Russia could fill this gap if the United States left it open.
“I am skeptical that we are storming into Iraq,” Vladimir Frolov, an independent Russian foreign minister, told Defense News. “At least not in the Syrian style or even as a security service provider. This would seriously burden the military. I think we would be very open to other forms of support such as arms sales, trainers and information sharing. But use the air force? No.”
Of course, Russia is always trying to expand arms sales – a proven method of geopolitical influence – and oil and gas contracts. However, it is already present on both fronts in Iraq, and it is not clear whether greater engagement and engagement in Iraq would be needed to improve access to these markets.
One of the most notable and politically significant arms exports in Russia is anti-aircraft and air defense systems. Iraq is already in the crosshairs of US and Iranian missile and missile attacks, and predictable Russian state media is making noise about a possible sale of S-400 air defense systems to Iraq, a weapon in the heart of US Turkish tensions.
However, there is no official evidence of an S-400 sale to Iraq.
Even before the USA murdered Soleimani on Iraqi soil, Iran dominated the country significantly. Russia is an Iranian partner in the Middle East and has never had any real problems getting the Iraqi government what they wanted, said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia program at CNA, a Virginia think tank.
“A decrease in US influence is beneficial to other external actors in the Middle East, but of little benefit to Russia,” said Kofman. “Most countries are not interested in the role of the United States in the Middle East and hardly want to lose their job as a security service provider for a region that is in an almost constant turmoil.”
More specifically, there are simply no geopolitical reasons to completely replace the United States in Iraq.
“The Middle East is just not that important anymore,” Kofman said, “and the other major powers still prefer that the United States manage as much of it as possible, while being able to selectively engage and do with their interests to reach.” [at] relatively low cost. “
Meanwhile, the mood in Moscow shows signs of a departure from the bravery and adventurism that have shaped Russian foreign policy in recent years. When 2024 approaches, the Russian political elite will increasingly focus on the question of Putin’s successor. His term as president will reach a constitutional limit in four years.
Putin announced important reforms for the Russian government on January 15, which will result in some presidential powers being shifted to parliament and the formation of a new state advisory board. The proposal envisaged the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet of ministers, a move presented in response to the upcoming changes rather than a coordinated game.
The steps indicate that Putin is tackling the titanic follow-up project in Russia or at least a title succession. Some see the transformation of the Russian governmental system as a means of keeping Putin in power while maintaining a democratic legal order. In both cases, internal affairs are likely to be more important than in recent years.
The Russian public also plays a role in this shift. It is more difficult for the Kremlin to justify courageous foreign policy action as the economy continues to stagnate and public dissatisfaction increases.
“Russian foreign policy is currently skeptical of filling every hole left open by the United States,” said Frolov. “This is not so popular domestically anymore and people are starting to ask questions about what we are doing [abroad], “