By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Giving a tough time to the United States in the Middle East (ME), Russia placed itself as an important stakeholder in ME politics in the last 10 years but with a heavy cost of spending resources in Middle Eastern wars, particularly Syria and Iraq.
After completing an important visit to the Middle East, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is starting his Asian tour on April 5. South Asia is the biggest consumer market on earth with a stable middle-class. Will forthcoming visits of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov tap economic interests or would it be only a strategic-centric tour?
The Middle East and Joint Security System in the Persian Gulf
It is pertinent to mention that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the Gulf countries during March 9 and 11 and held important meetings with Saudi, Qatari, and UAE leadership.
US Think Tanks believe that Russia is working to establish a joint security system in the Persian Gulf with the support of GCC countries and is trying to mend relations among UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran because a joint security system in the Persian Gulf needs the support of these three important players of the region. Meanwhile, China by signing China Iran Strategic Partnership Agreement has already placed its economic and security presence in the Persian Gulf.
Lavrov held meetings with UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the UAE National Security Adviser while in Saudi Arabia Lavrov held a meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
A report “US and Russia Interests in Middle East” indicates that the geopolitical foundation of the Middle East is undergoing a fundamental shift in paradigm, with both the US and Russia adapting their national interests to fit the current reality that US national interests in the Middle East are diminishing due to a combination of affordable and abundant domestic energy sources as well as the end of the Cold War.
Russia according to regional experts is pitching its narrative to GCC countries that the US is no more interested in Middle Eastern politics and US President Biden has expressed this policy, directly and indirectly, therefore, GCC countries should resolve their differences and should establish a regional framework along with Moscow.
According to an Iranian Foreign Affairs expert, Sabir Askeroğlu Lavrov offered Saudi Arabia and UAE a role to normalize their relations with Iran because according to Lavrov, Tehran cannot be ignored in the regional scene therefore working relations of GCC countries should be established with Iran.
According to Russian media, Lavrov played a role in the normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He held his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Doha before Turkey-Russia-Qatar trilateral meeting on Afghanistan and Syria.
According to available information, Lavrov explained to Qatar that Russia is not a rival to Qatar or any other country regarding the Afghanistan peace process, and its attempt at Afghanistan peace is linked with every regional as well as international attempt to bring peace back to Kabul.
The South Asian Arena
On April 5-6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will pay a working visit to New Delhi, during which he will hold talks with his counterpart. And on April 6-7, he will visit Pakistan. In addition, he will visit Egypt on April 12, and Iran on April 13
On April 5-6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to New Delhi, during which he will hold talks with his Indian Counterpart S. Jaishankar. The agenda of talks in India includes the current state of bilateral relations, the preparation of the upcoming annual Indo-Russia summit, cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, assess approaches to the interaction between Russia and India in the international arena, including at such multilateral platforms as the UN, BRICS (where New Delhi chairs this year) and the SCO.
On April 6-7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a visit to Islamabad within the framework of which he will hold talks with Foreign Minister of Shah Mahmood Qurashi and possibly with Chief of Pakistan Army Gen Bajwa. The agenda items in Pakistan include the current state and prospects for the development of bilateral relations, including the possibilities of further strengthening cooperation in the trade, economic, and counter-terrorism spheres. An in-depth exchange of views will take place on topical issues of the regional and international agenda with an emphasis on Afghan issues and interaction at multilateral platforms, including the UN and the SCO.
Available information suggests that forthcoming intra-Afghan peace talks to be held in Turkey would be on agenda also while meeting with regional partners.
Russian Foreign Office says that Russia welcomes any initiatives that contribute to the early achievement of peace in Afghanistan, however, the details of the proposal of the Turkish side are still not clear, including the timing, circle of invitees, format of participation, and other issues. The Russian side will be ready to decide on its representation at the event after receiving the relevant information.
A visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan is scheduled for April 7-8, where Lavrov will meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic, Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi. A wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation, interaction within the framework of international organizations EAEU, CIS, CSTO, prospects for Eurasian integration and cooperation in the Caspian Sea region will be discussed.
On April 12, the Russian Foreign Minister will visit Egypt and on April 13 – Iran. The agenda items include a discussion of bilateral relations and prospects for cooperation in the trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian spheres.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Russian Federation is trying to gain the footings it lost in the last two decades of the 20th century and at the same time, China slowly but surely extended its sphere as far as Africa through Economic Diplomacy. Russia looks defeated in the economic sphere in front of China as Beijing successfully consolidated its position diplomatically in all three regions through Economic Diplomacy and without involving in any competition and war.
Russia wants to enhance its trade with GCC countries, India, Iran, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries but it is short of products and only military hardware is an available product Russia is selling in the international market. According to Russian media, Lavrov wants to use his forthcoming engagements as an economic success also to enhance its exports and winning oil and gas projects from visiting countries.
Russia’s Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Ambassador Zamir Kabulov visited Islamabad in February with one-point agenda to discuss the future of Afghanistan. Russia through the Moscow Format is playing an important role to find solutions to the Afghan crises. Moscow Format is an important platform where representatives from 11 countries from across the world were in attendance, including members of the Taliban political office and various Afghan groups and factions. It was the first time that the Taliban were invited to an international forum for discussion on peace in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Russia was also an active part of the “Four Party Talks” that were initiated to resume US-Taliban negotiations and ensure that the settlement protects the human, political and economic rights of Afghans as a priority. These talks included Russia, China, and Pakistan. In these talks, the US was represented by a US representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.
It is expected that the Afghanistan issue will be at the top of the agenda of Lavrov talks in Iran, Pakistan, and India as Moscow considers all three countries as important for finding Afghan Peace solution.