DUBAI — Russian-Arab relations have grown noticeably since the Iranian nuclear accord, but questions remain if theis partnership is sustainable.
Following a decade of near-absence in the Middle East, Russia is again has once again asserting itself through arms sales to former Soviet-era clients while trying to break into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market.
Yuri Baramin, a gulf-focused Russian political and military analyst, told Defense News earlier that Russia wants to regain the influence it once had in the n goal in the Middle East. is to regain the influence that the USSR once had.
"While the USA is having uneasy relations with MENA [Middle East and North Africa] countries, Russia is making attempts to capitalize on this fact and fill the vacuum left when the United States leaves," he said.
According to Baramin, Russia's influence is dictated by arms trading. Russia's biggest and most reliable customer, Algeria, has acquired $7.5 billion worth of military hardware from Russia since 2006, including MiG-29 and Su-30 fighters, S-300 rocket systems and T-90 tanks, he said.
Over the last year, Russia is has been close to finalizing deals worth more than $3 billion with Egypt for aircraft, rockets and missile systems.
"Within individual countries, Russian influence [rests] almost entirely on its arms sales or military aid to allies in MENA," Baramin added.
Last week on Tuesday Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the Jordanian king and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in Moscow to discuss the Syrian crisis and take part in a showcase of Russia's military industry, MAKS 2015, which ran Aug. 25-30.
Jordanian King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan were also joined by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
But Adam Ereli, former US administration official and former ambassador to Bahrain, Adam Ereli, told Defense News that Russia will never be able to shift the fundamental relationship between the Arab states, particularly in the gulf, and the US.
"These, in the end, are commercial transactions that will not translate into a platform for a strategic realignment," Ereli said.
"Russia will never have the relationship with Egypt that it had with [the late President Gamal Abdel] Nasser [during the 1950s and 1960sand 70s] and it will never even come close to that level of relationship with the gulf because they don't trust each other and they do not have a history together, their motivations are very different," he said.
Ereli, who is also vice chairman of Washington-based public strategy firm Mercury, added that GCC leaders are looking for friends while the Russians are looking for opportunities.
According to Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a UAE-based political science professor and regional analyst, the stability of Egyptian stability is a top priority to major regional players, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, so any help that comes from major powers like Russia, Europe and the US to achieve this goal is more than welcomed.
"I think Russia has expressed interest in making sure to supply Egypt with the needed weapons and political support, and if there is investment coming from Russia, so be it. So in all these plans, Russia's help for Egypt is of utmost importance."
According to Adam Ereli, stressed that the Russians have few connections to the region. are not here because they do not care about the region.
"The talk about Russian involvement and penetration of the region is way overblown; the fact of the matter is that philosophically, temperamentally, ideologically, Russia and this region are too far apart," he said.
"When they [GCC Arabs] sit down with a Russian they have much less in common and have much less basis for friendship than you do when you sit down with an American.
"They are here to make money, there might be some short-term gain for the region and the Russians in getting what they need right away but it's not going to help over the long term because the Russians will not be there over the long term and they know that," he said.
However, according to Clément Therme, associate fellow at the Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Moscow has useful assets for asserting its presence in the region.
According to a white paper published by Therme for the French Ministry of Defense – , "Russia's Influence in the Middle East: On the Rise or Inevitable Decline?" – Russia's the primary asset is its used by Russia through its steadfast attachment to the respect for national identities and state order in the Middle East.
"The identity discourse and its rejection of interventionism appeal to many. Russia's stance in relation to the Syrian crisis can be understood in this sense, especially since Russia's aim is to protect Christian minorities in the east. This code to understanding the conflict also highlights the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Moscow's foreign policy in the area," Therme wrote.
"Furthermore, the conflict in Syria enables a new non-Western relationship to be established, in which Russia hopes to exercise its political leadership. It is mainly hinged on an agreement with Iran, which was also marginalised in the Middle East in the 1990s, even if the differing of stances — in relation to Israel in particular — help put the notion of an agreement into perspective," he wrote.
This, he stressed, provides a Russian capacity for dialogue with all of the Middle East's actors, and that is at the heart of Russian strategy in the region.
"Moscow makes a point of proposing a diplomatic path that runs independently to that of the West, and attracts emerging countries and non-aligned states. Russian foreign policy in the Middle East is first and foremost pragmatic, defined by a Realpolitik strategy rather than an ideological policy," he stated.
Therme stated that the Middle East is a pivotal area of Russia-US relations.
"This complicity between Russia and the U.S. on the Middle East is part of the attempt to stabilise the region and they have in fact marginalised the other actors, in particular the European Union. The Russian approach therefore appears as a strategy of varying shape and form. Russia — oscillating between a hindrance and a help to the political resolution of crises — is undeniably an indispensable actor in the region, offering original solutions to regional crises."