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Russia-West confrontation may spill into Middle East — Valdai report

The authors foresee a scenario "where certain parts of the Middle East and North Africa are adjacent to other global political centers, such as European (Maghrib) or Eurasian (Mashriq), and a local independent center of power takes hold in the Persian Gulf region"

MOSCOW, February 20. /TASS/. The confrontation between Russia and the Western countries may spill into the Middle East region, which may exacerbate the conflict potential already existing there, the Valdai discussion club said in a report entitled The Middle East and the Future of the Polycentric World.

In the proposed study the authors paid special attention to key aspects of the current geopolitical situation, including both the Ukrainian crisis and the growing confrontation between Russia and the West, as well as the rapid strengthening of the global role of countries outside the Western alliance. The analysts did not leave unnoticed the general food crisis, as well as the likely emergence of new transport arteries. The key question in focus is whether the Middle East can lay claim to becoming one of the centers of the new multipolar world or runs the risk of becoming its periphery. Amid the current uncertainty, the authors did not brush off any of the possible scenarios and emphasized the greatest risks.

"Under the current circumstances, it is hardly possible to expect productive interaction on security matters in the Middle East between Russia and the West, but the parties can still make efforts not to project their current confrontation onto the region," the report reads.

The authors foresee a scenario "where certain parts of the Middle East and North Africa are adjacent to other global political centers, such as European (Maghrib) or Eurasian (Mashriq), and a local independent center of power takes hold in the Persian Gulf region."

"In theory, once implemented, this scenario should help strengthen Europe and Eurasia and speed up the development of certain parts of the Middle East and North Africa," the report says.

Alternative prospects

Given the region’s geographical unity and its countries’ "still remaining historical and cultural commonality and elements of shared identity," the report says, there is a possibility the Middle East and North Africa will turn into a full-fledged "independent center."

"The absence of a dominant power in this vast area, the growing internal fragmentation and multiple development imbalances … come to the fore as serious arguments against this scenario," the authors say.

But if such a scenario does materialize, Russia will have to adjust its Middle East policy: "In the new circumstances, when formulating goals, it will be necessary to take into account the global aspirations of the key Middle Eastern players and the new balances of interests in Eurasia."

"The diametrically opposite option includes transforming the entire space from the Ocean to the Gulf into a vast peripheral space of global politics. This option is supported not only by existing and looming conflicts, but also by the region’s high dependence on external players who, amid the ongoing efforts to form a new international order, are unlikely to be ready to take responsibility for the Middle East and thus repeat the experience of the 20th century," the analysts believe. "This scenario appears to be vastly disadvantageous to almost all centers of international politics, including Russia and Europe, for which the expansion of conflict to the south of their borders will mean the emergence of new major threats."

The authors arrive at the conclusion that given the above scenarios that may unfold in the Middle Eastern region and the existing conflict-prone nature of Russia’s relations with the West, "Russia’s Middle Eastern policy would benefit from becoming more adaptive and flexible."

Food security

Among the factors that will determine the likelihood of the development of a particular scenario, analysts have identified, among other things, the unfolding food crisis.

"The food shocks of 2022 caused by the Ukraine conflict, which broke out amid a steady increase in food prices that had been going on since the spring of 2020, has led to a severe aggravation of the situation in a number of Middle Eastern countries," the report says. A difficult situation is observed in Tunisia and Morocco, and Yemen, Lebanon and Syria are in an extremely vulnerable position.

The grain deal between Turkey, Russia, the UN and Ukraine, which was concluded in July 2022 and renewed on November 17 for 120 days, seemed to have smoothed out the sharp peaks of the crisis and partially stabilized global grain prices, but it was unable to resolve the problem in full: more than 50% of the grain shipped under the deal went to Spain, Turkey, China, Italy and the Netherlands, while the countries that are most in need got only 5% of the shipment. In addition, interruptions in the supply of Russian fertilizers become an additional negative factor. In the most vulnerable countries in terms of food security, the risks of social destabilization are growing sharply, the experts stressed.

Hydrocarbon market and logistics

The authors of the report drew attention to significant changes in the global hydrocarbon market, which will also significantly affect the geopolitics of the region. Thus, the role of OPEC+ has increased, and accordingly, the political influence of the Middle East states has grown, demonstrating the ability to withstand the political pressure of the United States, which insisted on increasing oil production contrary to OPEC+ decisions. At the same time, the experts predict that the complexity of coordinating oil policy within OPEC+ will soar. They also believe that the economic sovereignty of Arab exporters will be strengthened, which is manifested, among other things, in the transition to settlements in national currencies.

The revolutionary changes in the global transport and logistic system have a more lasting and systemic impact on the region.

Sanctions and counter-sanctions on air travel imposed by the West and Russia have triggered the demand for alternative routes and airlines. There has been a sharp increase in the importance of Istanbul and Dubai as world-class aviation hubs, as well as in the status of the national airlines operated by Turkey and the GCC countries.

In the short and medium term, the transport and logistics chains will shift to the South.

In the long term, after the situation in Ukraine gets resolved and relations between Russia and the West are normalized, traffic flows may shift to the North again, the Valdai report says.