ABU DHABI: Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” the chair of the comparative politics department at Russia’s MGIMO University told the fifth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate on Sunday.
Russia remains committed to strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia and ensuring regional stability, said Dr. Oxana Gaman-Golutvina.
When asked about Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of Moscow planning to defy US sanctions and purchase Iranian imports, she said: “This doesn’t mean a lack of principle, and doesn’t mean Russia aligns itself (with Iran).”
Moscow is “disappointed” about the US re-imposing strict sanctions on Iran, fearing it will heighten its nuclear activities, she added.
But Russia recognizes that the two greatest threats to the region are “political Islam” and “Iran’s bid for expansion of power,” said Gaman-Golutvina.
Moscow wants to bring an end to the conflict between Iran and Arab Gulf states, she added.
“Coordination with Iran wasn’t very successful,” she said, adding that Russia’s coordination with Saudi Arabia has been “more successful” due to bilateral agreements in the field of nuclear energy.
Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, said: “Russia’s goals are rational, and I think they’re achieving them.”
Building relations with Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia, is “top of Russia’s dashboard,” he added.
“One of its key goals is to be a key player in the Middle East, in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and its relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
On the panel “Temptation of Power: US Policies,” the senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute said every American president for more than the last half-century had come into office saying he did not wish to be engaged in foreign policy in the way his predecessor was.
“The reality is, if you ignore foreign policy it finds you and grabs you,” said Danielle Pletka. “The world won’t let the US disengage.”
Dr. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said in a time of “rapid and systematic global transformation,” collaboration between Arab Gulf states and their Western allies is critical in building a strong new order in the region.
“New dangers (such as) terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and climate change have appeared, new movements (such as) globalization, technologies and women empowerment have emerged, and new centers of strategic and economic powers such as China, India and the Arab Gulf are developing,” he added.
“We need to build a strong and moderate Arab center that takes on an increasing responsibility for addressing our common regional security channels.”
Saudi Arabia is playing a leading role in shaping a peaceful and prosperous Arab world, Gargash said.
“For this Arab-led approach to be successful, we must continue to develop our own capabilities,” he added.
“It’s critical that Saudi Arabia and Egypt play a leading role in helping to steer the region in a more positive direction. Their stability is so important for the future of the whole region.”
Iran’s role as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism was a hot topic at the conference, as international experts highlighted the growing need to combat Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region.
“Since 1979, Iran has been a primary source of sectarianism in the region, expanding its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles,” said Gargash.
“We supported Iran. We gave them a chance, but this softer approach failed. Iran only strengthened its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles,” he added.
“It has intensified its funding, arming and enabling violent proxies like the Houthis. It caused cyberattacks. It plotted terrorism, conflicts and assassinations in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. We need a new approach.”
Gargash lauded US President Donald Trump for walking away from the Iran nuclear deal.
“We need a common approach by all responsible nations, including our friends in Europe, to recognize the obvious need in standing up to Iran’s menacing activities,” Gargash said.
“There must be a new arrangement with Iran that addresses all the issues, not just the nuclear issues. This will be the first step in recognizing Iran as a true partner in the region.”
Dr. Andrew Parasiliti, director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at the Rand Corp., said: “Iran doesn’t operate in the realm of peace. They operate well in the realm of conflict.”
Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, president of the Emirates Policy Center, said Saudi Arabia is a political, economic and religious balancing power, in addition to Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, as they possess human resources and other qualifications to play that role.
Dr. Sultan Al-Nuaimi, a faculty member at Abu Dhabi University, highlighted the UAE’s relations with Saudi Arabia, citing the Kingdom as a “leader” when it comes to shaping a prosperous and peaceful future for the region.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Nahas, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council, highlighted the important relationship between the Kingdom and the UAE in fighting regimes that sponsor terrorism, such as Iran’s, and tackling Qatar’s regional “interference.”