Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa Region

Lavrov’s Gulf trip highlights Russia’s growing regional role

Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a four-day trip to the Gulf in early March, stopping in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a broader effort to boost Moscow’s ties with the region. Although the Gulf monarchies are traditionally considered some of the U.S’s closest allies, relations between Russia and the Gulf have improved in recent years and there is potential for further cooperation going forward.

Russia’s interests in the Gulf are multifaceted, but key areas include energy, military affairs (especially arms sales), and investment, as well as regional conflicts, most prominently Syria. During his official meetings, Foreign Minister Lavrov focused on economic cooperation, in particular Gulf investment in Russia, and negotiations over further coordination on Syria. Russian-Gulf commercial ties are especially relevant at the moment as Moscow is set to host several events next month, including the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Arabia-EXPO 2019, and a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council. Part of Lavrov’s mission was to invite the Gulf countries to attend, and he no doubts made a major effort to persuade them to send high-level delegations. As yet, however, the Gulf monarchies have not shown a willingness to take part. Continue reading

Will the Syrian Kurds strike a deal with Moscow?

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

President Donald Trump’s announcement at the end of 2018 that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria came as a surprise to all parties involved, sparking particular concern among America’s Syrian Kurdish allies. The move followed President Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS after a four-year military campaign fighting alongside Syrian Kurdish forces. This sudden and unexpected decision has been widely criticized not only by allies but also those inside the White House, with many analysts arguing that the U.S. withdrawal will expose the Syrian Kurds to an attack by Turkey.

The news caught the Pentagon and local Syrian allies off-guard and ultimately led to the resignation of several senior U.S. officials, including Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS. According to McGurk’s resignation letter, the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops would be dangerous and lead to a risk of resurgence among the remnants of ISIS in Syria. Continue reading

How is Russia likely to respond to US strikes in Syria?

Russia has long been threatening the US with “serious consequences” to its missile strikes against the Syrian regime over the alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma.

Speaking after the US air raid on Saturday, Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to Washington, reiterated that “such actions will not be left without consequences”. However, Lawrence Korb, former US assistant secretary of defence, told Al Jazeera that Russia’s reaction would most probably be limited to the public condemnation since the Pentagon did not target the Russian military positions. Continue reading

Five things to know about the US-led strikes in Syria

The United States and allies have responded to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against the rebel-held town of Douma with missile strikes. US President Donald Trump announced he ordered airstrikes in Syria “on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities”, in collaboration with the UK and France.

The strikes mark the second time Trump ordered attacks against Syria to punish Assad’s government. Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pledged to retaliate for what it described as a “fabricated” chemical gas attack. Continue reading

What is Russia’s end game in Afrin?

Turkey launched its air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in the Syrian enclave of Afrin on Saturday, with Moscow turning a blind eye on the military offensive.

Russian forces were withdrawn from the area just before the operation began and Turkish jets were allowed to use the Afrin airspace, controlled by the Syrian government and Russia.

The development comes at a time when relations between Turkey and Russia have been gradually getting closer in the context of the Syria conflict, whereas tensions have been rising between Ankara and Washington, which backs the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Continue reading

Will the ‘Troika format’ of Astana talks bring peace to Syria?

Share on Twitter Share via Email Print this page Middle East Astana Talks on Syria to Continue Despite Setbacks By Daniel Schearf February 18, 2017 07:26 PM Participants of Syria peace talks attend a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Feb. 16, 2017. Participants of Syria peace talks attend a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Feb. 16, 2017.

Participants of Syria peace talks attend a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Mukhtor Kholdorbekov – RTSYZEI

On January 23, the next phase of peace talks started in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. Syria’s government and opposition forces are to meet in Kazakh capital Astana for the first time since the fall of Aleppo. Negotiations between the Syrian government delegation and rebel fighters, sponsored by Russia and Turkey – who have been backing different sides of the conflict – are expected to last three days.

One of the most significant points of the talks is that this time Syrian opposition is represented mainly by the militant groups, which fight in Syria, not just by secular, and political forces. Nevertheless, uncertainty prevails over all aspects of the talks – from the attendant list to the agenda of the meeting. The guarantors of the Astana talks – Turkey, Iran, and Russia are seemingly making efforts to show the effectiveness of the “Troika” format over Syrian talks. The governments of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are set to send officials from their ministers of defense and foreign affairs. The ministers are not expected to attend what is expected to be an essentially technocratic gathering. Continue reading

Hard choice of Riyadh: How did OPEC agree on the cut of oil production?

On November 30, OPEC secured a cut in oil production from 33.8 million barrels a day (b/d) to 32.5 million b/d. As cheap oil from the global oil glut created budgetary shortfalls in oil-producing countries across the world, the severe economic challenges facing petro-states led to this special agreement, which is OPEC’s first to cut oil output since 2008, and the first time that non-OPEC Russia will back the cartel’s cuts to prop up prices since 2001. This unexpected decision sparked a huge rally in the price of both oil and gasoline. Given the state of regional turmoil from Syria to Yemen, however, it is legitimate to ask if politics will cause the agreement to fall apart in 2017.

The agreement was designed to reduce the production in global oil markets. It was successful despite pessimistic forecasts leading up to last month’s meeting in Vienna. After all, OPEC’s April 2016 meeting, held in Doha, ended with no deal, as member countries did not reach any consensus on the level of oil production. Iran participated in private talks led by Qatar, which currently holds the OPEC presidency, but Qatar failed to get Tehran on board because Iran argued it needed to regain market share lost during years of international economic sanctions. Whereas some OPEC members such as Ecuador and Venezuela favored cutting oil production, OPEC’s September 2016 meeting, held in Algeria, also failed to achieve this goal with Libya and Nigeria appearing reluctant to cut their oil production. Continue reading

Why did Turkey enter Syria?

Obviously, the liberation of the city was not problematic for the Turkish military; according to the Turkish Defense Ministry, only one FSA fighter has been killed during the “Euphrates Shield” operation. The Syrian civil war has been raging for over five years, and there are still no winners in sight. On the contrary – new actors are becoming involved in the conflict day by day – this week the Turkish army also joined the fray, by intervening in the Syrian city of Jarablus to support Free Syrian Army militants and fight against Islamic State (ISIS).

Jarablus is a vital supply line for ISIS and one of its last remaining strongholds on the border. Every actor in the Jarablus operation is fighting for its own reasons. Turkey certainly sought to weaken ISIS, which has shelled Turkish territory and carried out a series of terrorist attacks – including a suicide bombing in the southern city of Gaziantep just last weekend which killed 54 people at a wedding. Continue reading

What after the Fallujah campaign?

Saba Ararsabah / AFP / Getty images

Saba Ararsabah / AFP / Getty images

The official Baghdad on the 22nd of May declared that it launched a large-scale military operation in a rebellious city of Fallujah against Islamic State militants, with the involvement of sophisticated armored vehicles, artillery, and the U.S led air forces. Apparently, the Islamic State has been holding Fallujah since 2014, and therefore the attempt to retake control of the city will be violent and grueling. Fallujah – which is located roughly 69 km west of Baghdad is one of the strategically important cities of Iraq and the first city that has fallen under the rule of the Islamic State. Continue reading