Triumph of Geopolitics? Evolution of Russian Approaches to the Middle East

The year 2023 was characterized by a sharp deterioration of the situation in the Middle East after the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Russia attempted to take a neutral position, generally consistent with or coinciding with the reaction of the international community. At the same time, deep contradictions between the policies of Russia and the collective West remain and may worsen if the situation in the zone of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation becomes more violent. Russia’s principled position on this long-standing conflict is well known, and it consists in resolving the issue on the basis of the two-state solution and preventing the discrimination of sovereign rights of the Arab people of Palestine. Another fundamental postulate of the Russian policy is to minimize losses among civilians and advocate the resolution of this tense situation through negotiations in order to eliminate the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe, which is already being witnessed. So, Russia should prioritize humanitarian agenda, continue supporting the two-state solution and promote political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Russia’s actions in this Middle East crisis provide a good evidence of its pro-active presence in the region and at the same time its pursuit of a balanced and reserved policy. Russia will strengthen its position in the Middle East by deepening contacts with major regional powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab states, Iran, and Türkiye. One of the instruments for consolidating Russia’s policy in the region will most likely be the expansion and strengthening of BRICS. Moscow will certainly take advantage of its 2024 presidency in this group and will make efforts to expand its membership, while remembering, of course, about the threat of devaluation of its values depreciation and effectiveness reduction.

Geopolitical pillars of the Russian approaches to the Middle East

In recent decades, Russia’s policies have been characterized by gradual consolidation in the context of an escalating struggle in the space of the Near Abroad, and the competition for influence in the region to the south of Russia’s historical borders in Asia. Meanwhile, historically, the expansion of Russian power to Asia, which was also accompanied by the pursuance its commercial and industrial interests, was carried out in the directions from West to East and from North to South. Though, we can also say that Asian expansion of the European countries took place in the same historical period, a good example is Great Britain – not a continental, but a maritime trading and colonial power. It should be noted that they did it vice versa – from East to West and from South to North.

Russian geopolitical tradition was based on a longitude (meridional) vision, according to which two meso-regions were clearly distinguished – the Caucasus and the Near East, on the one side, Central Asia, and the Middle East, on the other. In the post-World War II (1939-1945) times, their contacts turned out to be so close that the use of the term Near and Middle East became the most common in Russian journalist and expert literature. In fact, it coincided with the English name of the region, reflecting the intersection of both geopolitical projections.

Geographically, post-Soviet Russia resembled imperial Russia at the end of the reign of Peter the Great and was almost the same as Soviet Russia in the early 1920s. As in the case of the historical precedent of 70 years ago, Russia retained the central role in current geopolitical structure. Russia was recognized as the main successor of the Soviet Union, and, to replace it, there emerged the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) under the auspices of Moscow. In the first half of the 1990s the Russian leadership were taking efforts to put the country’s economy on a market track and to assert its power in the Caucasus, primarily in Chechnya. The wave of Islamic radicalism sweeping the southern borders of Russia greatly complicated the problem of local (ethno-regional) nationalism. But by the end of the decade, the socio-economic and political situation had stabilized, which made it possible to put an end to the most violent manifestations of separatism and terrorism and move towards consolidating Russia’s positions along the perimeter of its southern borders.

Given the consolidation of internal positions, Russia abandoned in 2001 the expensive outposts located far from its borders – the Cam Ranh military base in Vietnam and the Lourdes SIGINTstation near Havana in Cuba – and retained the only far abroad base in the Syrian port of Tartus and Latakia[1]. Despite the demonstrative refusal from some geopolitical ambitions, Russia faced continued pressure from the United States and its NATO allies. Under these conditions, President Vladimir Putin made a milestone speech in February 2007 at the Munich Security Conference in which he stressed the unacceptability of the unipolar world model for Russia. He also noted the breaking by the West the promises made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 not to expand NATO to the East [2].

Russia’s policy in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region can perhaps be best explained through the prism of geography. Moscow’s main priority is the belt of the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, followed by the belt of their neighbors (Türkiye, Iran, and Afghanistan plus Pakistan), and then the entire Arab world.The transformation processes in the Arab world in 2011-2012, called the Arab Spring in the literature, another time exposed the inconsistency of Western ideas of the Western-based democratization of the Middle East. In fact, there was a weakening of the statehood of a number of states in the region which led to new threats, destabilization and civil wars due to socio-economic, regional (contradictions between regional powers), and external factors. The collective West played a negative role in this regard, openly supporting – and in some places using force, as in Libya – anti-government movements, interfering in the internal affairs of the states. The transformation of the regional order posed threats, but also opened up new opportunities, which Moscow effectively took advantage of by returning to the Middle East. The Arab states of the region in many ways positively assessed Russia’s determination in the fight against terrorism and other regional threats.

“…The states of friendly Islamic civilization, which has great prospects for establishing itself as an independent centre of world development within a polycentric world, are increasingly in demand and more reliable partners of Russia in ensuring security and stability as well as in solving economic problems at the global and regional levels. Russia seeks to strengthen the comprehensive mutually beneficial cooperation with the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, respecting their social and political systems and traditional spiritual and moral values. In pursuing these aims, the Russian Federation is going to focus on:

  1. developing the full-scale and trustful cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran, providing comprehensive support for the Syrian Arab Republic, and deepening the multi-faceted mutually beneficial partnerships with the Republic of Türkiye, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the other member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, given the extent of their sovereignty and constructiveness of their policy towards the Russian Federation;
  2. establishing a sustainable comprehensive regional security and cooperation architecture in the Middle East and North Africa, based on combining the capacities of all the states and interstate alliances of the regions, including the League of Arab States and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Russia intends to actively cooperate with all the interested states and interstate associations in order to implement the Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf region, viewing the implementation of this initiative as an important step towards a sustainable and comprehensive normalization of the situation in the Middle East;
  3. promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue and understanding, consolidating efforts to protect traditional spiritual and moral values, and combating Islamophobia, including via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation;
  4. reconciling differences and normalizing relations among the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as between these states and their neighbours (primarily the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab countries, the Syrian Arab Republic and its neighbours, the Arab countries and the State of Israel), including within the efforts aimed at a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Palestinian question;
  5. helping resolve and overcome consequences of armed conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, South, South-East Asia and other regions where Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are located;
  6. unleashing the economic potential of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with a view to establishing the Greater Eurasian Partnership”.

2023 Russian Foreign Policy Concept

Source: Russian Foreign Ministry

New geopolitical realities in relations with the regional leaders

Previously Russia was focused on the Eastern Mediterranean in the Arab world, while now Moscow is strengthening its ties with the Gulf monarchies – this was not the case either in the Soviet or pre-Soviet period. From historical perspective, this clearly indicates a new geopolitical reality, greater pragmatism, and the evolution of Russian approaches to the region. Since the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, Moscow’s position in the Gulf was weak (apart from Soviet-Yemeni cooperation and a short period of cooperation with the young Saudi Kingdom in the 1920s-1930s)[3]. The scale of economic cooperation and political coordination between Moscow and the Gulf monarchies is now growing. Russia has proved to be a reliable partner in the context of the discontent that was growing among the Gulf monarchies towards the United States. Both Arab states and non-Arab powers see Moscow as a pole of influence so necessary for them to balance out and counter the West. Moreover, Russia showed its will to use force in 2015, which is traditionally respected in the Middle East. The issue of coordinating oil and gas policy and reducing oil production in order to stabilize the market of hydrocarbons within OPEC+ has demonstrated its relevance. But it is not only the Arab world that has built a new logic of its relations with Moscow. Türkiye, Iran, and Israel have also begun building the relationships with Russia – all this means the emergence of a new regional order and the end of Pax Americana.


Türkiye will obviously strive to maintain a balance between the West and Russia. In addition to that, Türkiye’s international role will increase, especially in the Middle East, in the Arab world and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict zone. Given that, the importance of Russia’s relations with Türkiye will only increase. At the same time, it is possible that Ankara will face deep internal contradictions (political and regional) and will not necessarily find an optimal solution for itself.

In general, at this stage, Türkiye has returned to a certain extent to the situation of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, probably, the apparent nostalgia of the Turkish military and certain political circles for imperial ambitions, the emergence of plans to expand its naval presence in the Mediterranean and more active participation in resolving complex Middle Eastern problems[4].

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Türkiye for Russia. However, there are a lot of problems in relations with Ankara. These are the conflicting positions on the situation in Syria and the Kurdish problem, and Türkiye’s generally ambiguous position on the entire range of international issues, since it remains a member of NATO and maintains special ties with the European Union[5].

It must be emphasized that the development of economic ties with Russia and China can allow Türkiye to cope with acute economic problems such as inflation and decline in macroeconomic indicators. This would reduce Türkiye’s dependence on the West. It can be suggested that, from a historical perspective, Türkiye is doomed to a closer partnership with Moscow.


As well as Türkiye, Iran belongs to both regions – the Near East and the Middle East (in Russian tradition of Oriental studies these are Blizhniy Vostok and Sredniy Vostok) – occupying, as in previous stages of geopolitical evolution, a key position between the Caucasus and Central Asia in the North, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf zone in the South[6]. Iran will most likely try to make the most of its special ties with Russia. Equally belonging to both the Near East and the Middle East, it, on the one hand, overlooks the Persian Gulf and the entire turbulent, patchwork Middle Eastern area, and on the other, is tied to Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as to Central Asia. The future importance of Tehran for Moscow depends largely on the internal political dynamics in Iran, although in the foreseeable future, serious problems, despite the underlying tremors, seem unlikely.

There have been established special relations between Russia and Iran at this stage. It should be noted that there exist pro-Western sentiments in Iran which are still strong among some parts of the ruling elite and in the society. Nevertheless, as the conflict between Israel and the Muslim world is likely to drag on and possibly worsen, the pro-Western camp will lose its significance. In the future, Russia and Iran will cooperate even more closely, and thanks to this Russia’s position in the Middle East will strengthen, although it may be necessary to take into account the future strengthening of ties between Iran and the Arab states of the Gulf.


With the third non-Arab and influential country in the Middle East – Israel – Russia is developing partnership amid controversy[7]. For instance, Israel is wary of Russian actions in Syria (since this leads to Russia becoming an Israeli neighbor). In addition, the Israeli leadership has a negative attitude to the build-up of Russian-Iranian ties and sees this as a threat to its security. Russia also supports the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On October 9, 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at his meeting in Moscow with the Arab League Secretary General Gen. Ahmed Aboul Gheit stated: “I am referring to the need to resolve the Palestinian problem based on the two-state solution, in keeping with the UN Security Council resolutions, the agreements reached by the two parties in Oslo and Madrid, and the Arab Peace Initiative. These agreements and resolutions provide for the creation of the State of Palestine, which will live side by side with Israel in peace, security, and cooperation[8]”.

This was said in the context of the failure to reach political settlement of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and another round of its escalation in October 2023, which is still continuing. As of February 2024, the issues of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and the inability of Israel and Hamas to agree on a truce persist along with the constant veto by the United States in the UN Security Council on the issue of a ceasefire in Gaza. The centrality of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict for regional security and development has been obvious, which has led many actors to the understanding of the need to promote the recognition of the Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, which Russia also adheres to. In addition, in February 2024, Moscow offered its platform to the opposing Palestinian organizations and invited them for intra-Palestinian talks in order to forge Palestinian unity.

At the same time, Russia and Israel are closely interconnected politically, socio-economically and – what is of fundamental importance – culturally and historically. Israel does not join the anti-Russian sanctions regime, stands in solidarity with Moscow regarding the recognition of the outcomes of the World War II (WWII) and does not want to spoil relations with Russia as this may have negative consequences for Israel in the region.

Fight against terrorism as a priority

Security threats, especially international terrorism, are traditionally named among the key reasons of Russia’s focusness on the Middle East. Higher influence of Daesh[9] seen in 2014 due to the seizure of many cities in Iraq and Syria led to a serious outflow of population fearing the risk of radical ideology indoctrination effect and recruitment. Hundreds of people, mostly from Muslim-populated regions of the Russian Federation, went to war zones or provided material and other support to terrorists. Assessing the risks, as well as the situation in the Syrian crisis zone, the Russian leadership decided to intervene in regional affairs.

Russia’s support for Syria’s state institutions and the actions of the Russian military on its territory have radically changed the situation in favor of the official Syrian government. This approach forced regional players to coordinate their actions with Moscow, especially since the latter managed to establish stable relations with them. The Syrian case allowed Russia, a global power, to determine the modalities of the regional agenda with the support and in cooperation with major Middle East region players – Iran and Türkiye, thus leveling out Washington’s influence. This was reflected in the implementation of the Astana Processin the Syrian settlement and in the formation of a quadrilateral information committee between Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria in Baghdad. In fact, the successful Syrian military campaign allowed Moscow to gain a foothold in the region and act as a catalyst for promoting Russian interests not only in Syria, but beyond – in the entire Middle East.

On August 24, 2021, Moscow made its proposals the Persian Gulf countries by publishing the Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf. Russia called for the creation of an inclusive architecture of peace and security. The issue of combating international terrorism, of course, was also mentioned in this Concept.

“…Building on proposals elaborated in the late 1990s and amended in 2004, 2007 and 2019, the updated Russian security concept for the Persian Gulf area is based on the following principles.

  1. The commitment of all States to international law, the fundamental provisions of the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions. Our common goal is a prosperous Middle East sustaining interfaith and inter-ethnic peace and coexistence. The establishment of a security system in the Gulf region is seen as an integral part of the overall effort to ensure stability in the Middle East as a whole. Key among them are provisions on respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States and the diversity of their socio-political structures and the resolution of internal political problems without undue external interference, within a legal framework and through comprehensive national dialogue, as an important precondition for maintaining domestic stability and interfaith harmony.
  2. Multilateralism as a way of ensuring the participation of all stakeholders in joint assessment of the situation and adoption and implementation of decisions. It is counterproductive to exclude any party from this process for whatever reasons.
  3. The universality of the security system in the Persian Gulf. The relevant multilateral architecture is based on the principle of common and indivisible security, respectfor the interests of both regional and extra-regional actors, including military, economic, energy, transport and environmental components.
  4. A step-by-step movement towards an inclusive security system in the Persian Gulf, starting with addressing the most pressing and urgent problems facing the subregion. This relates to ensuring freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and a joint struggle against today’s acute challenges, above all international terrorism.
  5. The principle of gradualism applies, inter alia, to the adoption of confidence-building measures and the provision of mutual security guarantees in the subregion by the Gulf countries”.

Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf

August 24, 2021

Source: Russian Foreign Ministry

The Persian Gulf in the second half of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st was considered to be a traditional zone of influence of the United States, that has its large naval bases in the Arab monarchies of the Gulf. This allows Americans to control traffic flows from the oil-rich region.In 2023 there was a change in regional geopolitics brought about by the weakening of Washington’s influence and the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement mediated by China (which had by that time become the largest trading partner for both Riyadh and Tehran).

The rapprochement of positions between Saudi Arabia and Iran is welcomed by Moscow, which is interested in stabilizing this region of the world. However, in this case Moscow will be forced both to seek compromises with regional players and to mitigate the risks of the West’s declining role (due to the fact that, while weakening, the West may resort to subversive activities). It is worth noting that the growing sovereignty of regional powers clearly indicates the universalization of rules of conduct for global powers as well.

As for the United States, it retains the potential to exert a large-scale influence on regional processes, but this time by blocking with other forces. In this sense, China promoting its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) implying the access to Western Asia through the China-Pakistan corridor, may face opposition from the emerging Indo-Abrahamic Alliance (by which the union of India, Israel and a number of Arab allies of the United States is understood) actively supported by the US.

On the way from nuclear nonproliferation to nuclear energy

The issue of nuclear nonproliferation is of particular importance in the new geopolitical scenario. Russia has traditionally been a key participant to international conferences on declaring the establishment of the Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction (MEWMDFZ).

Moscow has always been committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The second decade of the 21st century showed the importance of Russia’s role as an international mediator, which manifested itself during the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons under international control in 2014 in compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2118 as well as promoting the 2015 agreement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear program. Despite the seemingly agreed terms on the JCPOA, the American position turned out to be unpredictable. In 2018, the US administration of Donald Trump (2017-2021) withdrew from the JCPOA, despite the statements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Tehran’s fulfillment of its obligations.

The initiatives promoted by Russia were negatively perceived in the West. The states of the Middle East highly appreciate Russia’s leading role as an honest mediator, which has undermined the influence of the United States. Nevertheless, Russia has only been increasing its influence and cementing its positions on vital issues of the regional agenda. For example, the Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf also determines as one its principles, in the context of the challenges of strengthening NPT-based nuclear nonproliferation regime in the Middle East, taking steps to make the entire Middle East region and North Africa a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery[10].

Nevertheless, there have been and still are obstacles on the path to the establishment of a MEWMDFZ in the Gulf and, more broadly, in the Middle East. These are the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs. Back in 1974, the Arab states managed to adopt Resolution 3263 supported by the states officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons of the UN General Assembly which called on all states in the region to join the NPT. Israel, which was at war with Arab countries and, according to experts, has nuclear weapons, ignored the Resolution, neither did it become a party to the NPT. Since then, the idea of a nuclear-free Middle East has failed to be accepted by the Arab powers due to Israel’s uncompromising position. In turn, the “Israeli leadership believed that achieving peace should take priority over disarmament, and not vice versa”[11].

Current Israel’s status of the only nuclear power in the region can be now challenged by Iran. Iran’s nuclear program has been limited to civilian nuclear energy, but there has always been a risk of Tehran creating weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Such a scenario, of course, is a threat to global and regional security. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, it may lead to the domino principle – other threshold states will also decide to follow Iran’s suit. Of course, in the Middle East region there have always been Iranian competitors. To give you an example, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in September 2023 said that his country would be forced to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran obtained them[12]. It is worth considering that Saudi Arabia is quite closely connected in nuclear matters with Pakistan. There is an opinion that the Saudis both financed the creation of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and paid for the nuclear testing conducted by Pakistan in May 1998 (after India had conducted nuclear tests in the same month)[13]. Even though Pakistan seeks to take a neutral position, with respect to competing with the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is little doubt how strongly Pakistan is still financially dependent on Riyadh.

If Iran and Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons, it will mean that such a fundamental international instrument as NPT will become history. This will lead to unpredictable consequences and the spread of nuclear weapons. Such a prospect seems disastrous for the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The world order will lose any stability if states use nuclear weapons to tackle their foreign policy and military tasks. Moreover, with the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially in the Middle East region, in the event of the undermining of statehood, the option of seizing these weapons or their components by terrorist groups cannot be ruled out[14].

The development of peaceful nuclear energy in the Middle East under international control can play a positive role in nuclear nonproliferation. Based on the NPT provisions the IAEA used safeguards system (i.e., control over the non-diversion of peaceful nuclear activities to military ones), covering the majority of states, has a positive agenda, although there are some nuclear activities in a number of states which do not fall under the safeguards system. In this regard, Russia’s cooperation with the countries of the region makes it one of the real guarantors of the potential future transformation of the Middle East into a WMD-free zone. Russia promotes the agenda of a peaceful atom in the Middle East, providing a full cycle of services for the construction and operation of power plants. Moscow helped Iran to build the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, currently it is carrying out the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Türkiye and the El-Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant in Egypt; if we take into account other foreign policy initiatives of Moscow, Russia can be called a potential guarantor and a key player in the promotion of the MEWMDFZ in the Middle East.

Projects of Eurasian interconnectivity

Russian approaches to the Middle East are connected with the civilizational vision of the Middle East as part of the Islamic world. In this regard, the Russian Foreign Policy Concept, updated in 2023, notes that the Russian Federation is going to focus on unlocking the economic potential of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with a view to establishing a Greater Eurasian Partnership[15]. The Islamic world is viewed as a friendly civilization that has great prospects for establishing itself as an independent center of global development within a multipolar world.

Russia has returned to the Middle East in the 2010s after a historical absence since the late 1980s. Regarding the geopolitical foundations of Russian interest in the region, they were premised on the region’s proximity to the southern borders of the post-Soviet states. The north of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean were equally important. However, the key difference between the 2020s and traditional Russian, and both at the times of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, geopolitics is that for the first time Russia has become truly interested in the Persian Gulf countries.

Moscow’s interaction with regional actors is not without contradictions, which result from a mismatch of interests. Often, the increased role of Moscow required taking a clearer position on a particular issue discord between regional powers. This narrowed the window of opportunity, which suggests that Russia has no obvious strategic allies in the Middle East region who would support Moscow’s line outside the current political context. Nevertheless, the countries of the region are moving closer to Moscow to protect their own strategic and national interests.

Russia is beginning to play an increasingly prominent role in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, Moscow has a clear understanding that in the medium term, with Washington remaining the main guarantor of security for the Arabian monarchies, its role will no longer be dominant. As a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Dr. Irina Zvyagelskaya put it, “…In the trade and economic sphere, Moscow is looking for niches in which it has competitive advantages over other major global players. This concerns food security, nuclear and space technologies. The participation in the OPEC+ format gives Moscow the opportunity to influence the level of oil production and prices (although not always successfully)”[16]. This indicates the evolution of Russian geopolitics in relation to the region. The Persian Gulf, being an increasingly significant in Russia’s economic cooperation with the countries of the world, as well as influencing the Eurasian political process, occupies a special place in Moscow’s geopolitical interests.

During the Soviet period, especially after the beginning of the Afghan campaign (1979-1989), the West managed to inspire fear in the Gulf monarchies with the idea that Russia by this campaign as making its way through Afghanistan to the so-called Warm Seas and particularly to the Gulf. The West, and the United States in the first place, portrayed this move to the Arabian monarchies as a threat to their interests. In fact, as Soviet analysts would later write about this, the Soviet leadership did not have such an intention while deciding on interfering into the Afghanistan conflict. But such mode of thinking and the assessment of the threat to the Gulf from the USSR in that historical period was common for experts in Arab studies.

Modern Russia differs from the USSR primarily by its prioritizing a pragmatic combination of security issues with the economic expediency when entering the region. Logistics projects available not only in the Middle East, but also on the geographical route to this region are considered by Moscow as ready-made parts and separate logistical hubs contributing to the creation in the future of a single Eurasian economic mechanism. The goal of the Greater Eurasian Partnership is to put these details and nodes together without the detriment to what has already demonstrated its effectiveness today[17].

Currently, there is a chance to give a strong impetus to the project of a combined and branched International North-South Transport Corridor, based on the agreements reached back in 2000 by Russia, Iran, and India (then other countries joined). The main obstacle to the relaunch of this transport corridor lies with the 20-year-long negotiations on the construction of its Western route through the territory of Azerbaijan and Iran – the stretch of the Rasht-Astara railway. On May 17, 2023, Russia and Iran concluded an intergovernmental agreement within the framework of the North-South project on the joint construction of a 160-kilometer section of the Rasht-Astara railroad between Azerbaijan and Iran, which will provide the passage to the ports of the Persian Gulf. According to the head of the Russian Ministry of Transport Vitaly Savelyev, the completion of the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway section is expected by 2028[18]. The target of the Russian Railways Holding set for 2023 was to transport more than 1 million containers through the International North-South Transport Corridor[19]. Currently, the participants of the International North-South Transport Corridor use the trans-Caspian route and the eastern route (through the Central Asian states).

There are other transport projects in Eurasia. In addressing critical situation in the economy of the country Pakistan seeks to unlock the economic potential of both this country and Afghanistan, which will make possible build the Trans-Afghan transport corridor leading from Central Asian states to Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea, primarily Gwadar. This deep-water port, built in the 2000s and 2010s with the help of China, with further investments in its infrastructure, is capable of turning into a large hub, a multidisciplinary center in the range of trade and transport flows leading towards China, on the one hand, and Central Asia and Russia, on the other. At the same time, both directions do not in fact compete but complement each other, promising high return on future investments in the region’s infrastructure.

Iran may also be involved in the latter project, despite having its own port in the Persian Gulf, Chabahar, which is being built with the help of India. Iran is able to provide not one but several hubs for storing and further transportation of goods and mineral resources. The struggle for the implementation of various projects that increase the interconnectivity of the middle Eurasian states will, most likely, constitute one of the main intrigues in a new Great Game between Russia, the United States, China, and India.

Hedging geopolitical risks

Russia’s geopolitical approach to the Middle East is viewed through the prism of traditional pillars of security (its concern over the Southern borders) and the cultural and civilizational belonging of the Middle East to the Islamic world. In political terms, Russia has formed its vision within the framework of the concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. In practical terms, Russian approach is based on ensuring peace and stability in the region through diplomatic and political efforts, the use of economic and humanitarian levers.

Russia has proven its ability to establish and develop ties with key state and non-state actors in the Middle East. Moscow’s policy on each issue had a clear focus on achieving the goal at relatively low costs. This ability of achieving the goals is firmly based on Russia’s experience and perseverance in promoting and implementing its initiatives (especially on the issue of combating terrorism in Syria, using collective actions, but only with those actors that really influence the situation). Regional powers were ready to meet Moscow halfway, because they wanted to see Russia as a counterweight to the United States. Up to the moment Russia has used the scope of its influence as skillfully as possible, capitalizing on it in the field of arms supplies and cooperation in the oil sector. As it was previously mentioned, the development of peaceful nuclear energy in the Middle East under international control, the IAEA, can play a positive role in nuclear nonproliferation. Russia can become a potential guarantor, and actually is a key player in promoting the MEWMDFZ.

Russia’s political weight in the Middle is perhaps limited. But in this regard the political weight of other external powers in the region will be inevitably limited. At the same time, Moscow can focus on receiving economic dividends. Given the need to move forward to the post-crisis management period (regardless of the possible scenarios of the end of the Ukrainian crisis), it is important to hedge the risks of investments in the region (such as, for example, getting involved in the affairs of Sub-Saharan Africa, which has an impact on the Arab region)[20]. Simultaneously, Russia can – and has already begun to do so – go beyond the cooperation in the field of arms and oil: not only by developing parallel imports, but also by filling in and branching the content of its economic contacts (industry, logistics, electric power, construction, scientific activity and technology, IT, automotive services) with the countries of the region. In general, Russia will strive to bring the positions of regional and non-regional players closer together in order to stabilize the region and synchronize its transportation connection projects (International North-South Transport Corridor) with the other seemingly competing Eurasian efforts based on the win-win formula. In this sense Russian should continue promoting the projects of the Greater Eurasian Partnership.

The material was first published on the PIR Center.

[1] Лузянин С.Г. Восточная политика Владимира Путина. Возвращение России на «Большой Восток» (2004 – 2008 гг.) // АСТ – «Восток – Запад». С. 80-81.

[2] In the context of this chapter, the following passage from Vladimir Putin’s speech is noteworthy: “Russia is a country with more than a thousand years of history, and it has almost always enjoyed the privilege of pursuing an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today” / Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy // Official Website of the Russian President, February 10, 2007. URL:; On the independent role of Russia in world affairs, a special Russian matrix see: Никонов В.А. Современный мир и его истоки. М.: Издательство Московского университета, 2015. C. 320. The author of the book, Vyacheslav Nikonov, who is a well-known political figure in Russia, one of the leading members of the Russian State Duma, described Vladimir Putin’s Munich Speech quite emotionally: “Putin poured out all the disappointment from the results of cooperation with the West at the Munich Conference on February 10, 2007, attacking the practice of a unipolar world, the world of one master, one sovereign”. Ibid. P. 395.

[3] Наумкин В.В. Несостоявшееся партнерство. Советская дипломатия в Саудовской Аравии между мировыми войнами / Наумкин В.В. – Москва : Аспект Пресс, ИВ РАН, 2018. – 456 c.

[4] This refers to the concept of the blue homeland of retired Admiral J. Gyurdeniz. See: Гаджиев А. Г. Турция – ЕС. Проблемы и перспективы развития отношений (1963-2019). М.: ИВ РАН, 2020.

[5] See: Роль и место Ирана в регионе: коллективная монография / отв. Ред.: Мамедова Н.М. , М. Иманипур. М.: ИВ РАН. 2007. С. 7.; Иран в мировой политике. XXI век / Отв. ред. Н.М. Мамедова, ред.-сост. М.С. Каменева, И.Е. Федорова. М.: ИВ РАН, Издатель Воробьев А.В., 2017.

[6] Звягельская И.Д., Богачева А.С., Давыдов А.А., Ибрагимов И.Э., Лазовский С.О., Самарская Л.М., Свистунова И.А., Сурков Н.Ю., Тюкаева Т.И. Российская политика на Ближнем Востоке: перспективы и вызовы // Свободная мысль. 2021. № 6 (1690). С. 71-85. URL:–

[7] Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf // Russian Foreign Ministry, August 24, 2021. URL:

[8] Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at a Joint News Conference with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Moscow, October 9, 2023 // Russian Foreign Ministry, October 9, 2023. URL:

[9] The organization is recognized as terrorist in the Russian Federation – Editor’s Note.

[10] Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf // Russian Foreign Ministry, August 24, 2021. URL:

[11] Фролов А. Ядерные программы на Ближнем Востоке: развить нельзя свернуть (Часть 2. Пути решения проблемы) // Пути к миру и безопасности. 2019. № 1(56). С. 123.

[12] Fazeli Y., Serrieh J. MBS: We Will Get Nuclear Weapon if Iran Does // Al Arabiya English, September 21, 2023. URL:

[13] Фролов А. Ядерные программы на Ближнем Востоке: развить нельзя свернуть (Часть 2. Пути решения проблемы) // Пути к миру и безопасности. 2019. № 1(56). С. 128.

[14] Russian experts and analysts have been warning about this for a long time. See: Сажин В.И. Иранская ядерная программа и угроза регионального вооруженного конфликта // Коллективная монография «Государство, общество, международные отношения на современном Востоке (Афганистан, Иран, Пакистан, Турция, этнический Курдистан, соседние мусульманские районы). – М.: ИВ РАН, Крафт+, 2014. С. 457.

[15] The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, 2023 // Russian Foreign Ministry, March 31, 2023. URL:

[16] Звягельская И.Д., Богачева А.С., Давыдов А.А., Ибрагимов И.Э., Лазовский С.О., Самарская Л.М., Свистунова И.А., Сурков Н.Ю., Тюкаева Т.И. Российская политика на Ближнем Востоке: перспективы и вызовы // Свободная мысль. 2021. № 6 (1690). 730 с. URL:

[17] Кортунов А. Восемь принципов Большого евразийского партнерства // Российский совет по международным делам, 25 сентября 2020 г. URL:

[18] Завершение строительства ж/д участка «Решт – Астара» ожидают к 2028 году // ТАСС, 26 июля 2023 г.

[19] Ibid.

[20] On hedging risks in international relations see: Shlykov, P.V. The State of Strategic Hedging: Turkey’s Foreign Policy and Relations with Russia. Russia in Global Affairs, 2023. 21 (3). Pp. 134–158. URL:

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