By Maro Youssef
On Tuesday, April 3, 2018, the Robert Strauss Center welcomed Peter Clement, Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University, for a talk on Russia in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Dr. Clement discussed Russia’s diverse economic and political interests in the region. President Putin’s desire to have a voice on all geo- political issues is perhaps one of the main drivers behind Moscow’s interest in the region, according to Dr. Clement. Russia also has major economic and political interests that affect both its international standing and domestic affairs.
Russia has several economic interests and investments across the MENA region that have domestic ramifications on the Russian economy. Its economic interests include: 1) diversification and expansion of its energy sector; 2) expansion of its nuclear energy program; 3) and an increase in arm sales. Since the price of oil determines the annual Russian budget, Russia is now cooperating with Saudi Arabia on stabilizing oil prices globally. It is also becoming a share-holder in several foreign companies in MENA in order to further become integrated into the global economy and protect its revenues even if its own supply becomes volatile. It seeks to be deeply entrenched in the nuclear energy sector and has agreements with both and Egypt and Jordan. It has also entered into negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Finally, Russia is the United States’ major competitor for arm sales on a globaly. It has arm sale agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Cooperation Council states such as Bahrain.
According to Dr. Clement, Russia also has major political interests and relationships in the MENA region that have global and domestic ramifications. Its political interests include: 1) increasing its counter terrorism efforts; 2) becoming or maintaining its status as a power player on a global scale; and 3) improving public opinion of President Putin in Russia. There are over 9,000 foreign fighters in Syria from Central Asia, 4,000 of whom are Russian. Russia is improving its counter-terrorism measures and increasing its cooperation with MENA actors in order to prevent a spillover of foreign fighters and violent extremism into mainland Russia.
In addition to its domestic concerns, Russia seeks greater involvement and a louder voice on a geopolitical scale at the United Nations and other avenues where its cooperation with MENA region and efforts on Syria can be interpreted as a sign of its strength as a political actor. Finally, Putin seeks to improve his public opinion ratings by keeping the financial costs of Russia’s efforts and casualties low in Syria. Once the conflict ends, Putin is concerned about the reconstruction costs required to rebuild Syria. Finally, Putin fears the return of Russian foreign fighters and increased terrorist events in mainland Russia.
Peter Clement is a senior research fellow and adjunct professor at Columbia University. He recently retired from CIA, where he held a number of senior analytic and management positions, including eight years as Deputy Director for Intelligence for Analytic Program, Director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis, and most recently, Deputy Assistant Director of CIA integrated Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. Mr. Clement served as the PDB daily briefer for Vice-President Cheney, NSC Adviser Rice and Deputy NSC Adviser Hadley in 2003-2004 and did a brief tour at the National Security Council as the Director for Russia and later as the senior CIA representative to the US Mission to the United Nations. Mr. Clement has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2001 and is a longtime member of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies. He has taught Russian history and politics for over 10 years at the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia’s northern Virginia campus, and two years at Columbia’s School of International and Public affairs. Mr. Clement has published some 10 journal articles and book chapters on Soviet and Russian foreign policy, Central Asia, and the Cuban missile crisis. He holds a PhD in Russian history and an MA in Modern European history from Michigan State University, and a BA in liberal arts from SUNY-Oswego.
Maro Youssef is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.