Russian and CIS Relations with the Gulf Region: Current Trends in Political and Economic Dynamics, a collaborative work produced by the Gulf Research Center and edited by Marat Terterov, is a review of the wide-ranging foreign policies of both the Gulf and Central Eurasian regions, replete with solid statistical and literary support garnered from a large host of surveys and professional research projects. The book delves deep into the fields of energy security and the workings of Eurasia’s “grand chessboard,” forging a comprehensive analysis of both the history and future of international economic and political relations between the nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Gulf Region.
The authors commence with a look at specific instances of bilateral relations in a successful bid to highlight a geopolitical reality – that CIS-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) relations, while initially and currently hesitant, are nevertheless beginning to achieve an ever-increasing level of rapprochement from the distanced days of the Cold War, based on the realisation of the massive potential benefits of future trade and political interaction. In a look at bilateral trade statistics between countries in the Gulf and in the CIS, the authors point to rising import/export figures from such diverse sources as the Republic of Kazakhstan State Committee on Statistics and the UN Registry on Conventional Arms Trade as proof of increased tightening of political and economic bonds between the two sets of nations.1 Inter-regional trade has skyrocketed since the end of the Cold War. Using, among others, the cases of Kazakhstan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Armenia, the authors’ showcase increasing levels of oil, gas and industrial trade that has presumably played a large role in a visible concurrence of thought in policy areas from the oil market to dealing with the phenomenon of religious extremism.2 This is further supported by existing similarities in culture and natural resource potential. Such alignment of policy goals with respect to the regulation of oil and gas prices brings a balancing presence of non-Western powers in the international community.
Much of the authors’ analyses points to the suggested reality that Russia’s post-2004 return to involvement in the politics of the Middle Eastern region has seen Russia come to occupy the traditional position of the United States as the region’s offshore broker. This is an especially cogent conclusion when considering Russian resurgence in conjunction with the erosion of confidence in the abilities and judgment of a post-Iraq United States. It is argued that Russia is a more natural mediator for the region, with geographic proximity and resource-driven policy similarities encouraging GCC confidence that Moscow can be a stabilising power in the Gulf.
A further factor in the re-establishment of Russian bases of power in the Middle East comes from Moscow’s need to find counterpart states in the south of Eurasia that can guarantee the stability of satellite interests in the Caucuses and Central Asia. This is one factor explaining Russian support of Iran since the mid-1990s onwards, as they appear to be naturally positioned allies that can prevent the incursion of any third party’s influences. The authors point to the steady rise of Russian arms trading in the Middle East as evidence that Moscow is increasingly seen as a guarantor of the region’s balance of power, with Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Kuwait foremost among those cited as paying recipients of hardware ranging from MiGs to combat patrol vehicles and medium-range missiles.3
Throughout the section of the book detailing the various bilateral relationships between the regions it becomes apparent that Russia and the CIS have essentially been able to do what the countries of the West have been unable to do – use a unique bi-cultural identity to bridge the gap between the West and the Middle East, while using the medium-term diversion of focus from its own conflict zones (for example, the move of militants from Chechnya to Iraq and Afghanistan) to leverage resource similarities to mould the role of a friendly, stabilising power in the region.
The authors then move on to discuss the multilateral “grand chessboard” of Eurasia. It is clear that Russia’s encouragement of a diverse multipolar international system stems from the need to stymie American power and the effect of US primacy in the Gulf region. It is also important for Russia that American power is simply pushed offshore, remaining present in the region to act as a balancing agent, but unable to exercise regional hegemonic influence. That is the role that Russia aspires to with policies of increasing economic interdependence, conflict mediation, and the formation of the one thing the US cannot offer the region – oil and gas cartels, either formal or informal.
At the same time, it is made quite clear that the countries of the GCC are already shunning the rules of the “Great Game,” a remnant of colonial policies that were driven by imperial balances of power rather than by acting for the wellbeing of the global economy. Post-Cold War policy-makers seemed to envision the scramble to carve out market share in the Gulf as a repetition of the colonial power politics of the 19th century, when in actual fact the complexities of multipolar regional interests contrast with the rising power of the states of the GCC. The Middle East now has its own balance of power, one that foreign powers must be careful to observe.
The book continues by examining the ongoing effectiveness of the foreign policies prevalent in both regions. For example, GCC countries are acting prudently, having learned from the experiences of boom-bust cycles throughout the 20th century to formulate adaptive investment policies. These policies involve high levels of investment in the private sector, using the relatively long-term sustainability of oil market profits to fuel industrial growth in other parts of the national economies of the Gulf. Reductions in the influence of government in national markets and decreases in the numbers of civil servants across the region, the countries of the GCC are successfully liberalising and privatising to create vibrant financial sectors with high levels of competition strong capital markets infrastructure. As these states are clearly becoming more and more capable of regulating catalytic FDI flows, and subsequently capturing superior foreign investment returns, Russia needs to continue to place more focus on cultivating positive relationships in the Gulf. Mutually beneficial cooperation is especially needed for the streamlining of sovereign wealth funds. This would make the regional ability to generate efficient capital flow an asset to the international community, leveraging the strategic position of both regions vis-à-vis the United States and creating a platform for proactive international energy and economic policy.
The conclusion of Russian and CIS Relations with the Gulf Region: Current Trends in Political and Economic Dynamics proposes that while the shift of global wealth is unsurprisingly moving towards rising Eastern states, Western policy-makers will be surprised to see that those states are not pursuing activities that reflect the traditional norms of a rising state in the West. Terterov (et al) purports that Russia is emerging as the figurehead of a large group of rising market powers where growth is based on heavy state intervention. Current trouble with the international finance system is lending credence to Moscow’s indications of concern over the effectiveness of Western institutions that are influential across the globe. In many ways the current crisis has given Russia the opportunity to move back into its areas of influence along its borders through massive deficit-financing loans and support, though Putin’s Russia must itself work hard to prove its system of state capitalism can pull the country to success. It is clear that continued Russian commercial backing of ventures in the Gulf comes as a result of a desire to prevent the onset of a Pax-Americana effect in the Middle East. Russia will be an important source of funding for the perceived security deficit between states of the Gulf, and is already respected as the foremost of the world’s revisionist great powers, able to affect stability in both global and regional balance of power situations.
This book could be used as a blueprint for developing in-depth analyses of the effects of both CIS and GCC actions in the international system in the future. Marat Terterov and his colleagues do well to remain carefully neutral in their commentary of the political realities of intra-regional conflicts and foreign intervention, though focus is largely to the West as opposed to looking at the influence of the massive rising energy consumers of Asia. They assert that the emergence of Russo-Gulf economic alliances, formal or informal, built on common culture and resource identities seems inevitable in the current climate of the international community. The wide use of statistical material from numerous national government sources makes Russian and CIS Relations with the Gulf Region: Current Trends in Political and Economic Dynamics an important resource for students and scholars of international politics, and will provide a behavioural and historically-based background framework for future policy studies.
1 Terterov (et al), p. 207/104.
2 Ibid. p. 206.
3 Ibid. p. 110.
4 Ibid. p. 271.