A shift in Jordanian-Russian relations
The history of Jordanian-Russian relations has not been smooth. The Soviet Union blocked Transjordan’s application for UN membership until 1948, and was one of the last countries to recognize Jordan as an independent state. Leftists were historically a threat to Jordan’s monarchy and stability. During the Cold War, Jordan was firmly in the Western camp, being dependent on the US and UK for financial aid and political support.
However, times have changed. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Amman and Moscow have been able to rediscover each other and build warm relations, even without having a significant political or economic background for this friendship. King Abdullah II has been a frequent guest in Russia since the early days of his succession to the throne in 1999.
Since their first meeting, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have succeeded in finding a common language and mutual understanding. Jordan’s king has visited Russia more than any other head of state: Nineteen times since 2000. But bilateral relations are built not only on ties between the two leaders, but between their peoples. Ethnically, Russia and Jordan are linked by the Circassians and Chechens, as the kingdom is home to thousands of them.
But Russia’s political establishment has little understanding of Jordan and its strategic role in the Middle East and North Africa. This lack of understanding has curbed the development of bilateral cooperation.
The situation began to change in Jordan following the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. The country started to look eastward, to China, India and Russia. The trigger for this was the Syrian conflict. Jordanian-Russian cooperation in the past couple of years over Syria, albeit with the obligatory involvement of the omnipresent US, has contributed more positively to efforts to resolve the conflict than all international attempts since it began.
Russia can provide Jordan with technologies, build its infrastructure and extend facilities that might ease its economic burdens.
The de-escalation zones in southern Syria are among the fruits of that cooperation, as is the ongoing process initiated by Russia to secure the return of refugees, which is hugely important to Jordan given how many of them it hosts.
With cooperation over Syria, Russian-Jordanian ties have reached a new level. Though a strong partnership is limited by Jordan’s foreign policy being influenced by those who provide the state with financial assistance, Amman has taken the initiative and started exercising pressure on its allies. Many Jordanian officials know that there is pressure on the government to look east to Russia and China without an American green light.
Amman and Moscow are moving toward each other cautiously, as Jordan does not want to lose old allies such as the US and UK. Jordan might take part as a guest of honor at the prominent St. Petersburg Economic Forum next year. The kingdom needs investments to mend its troubled economy, and Russia might help in this regard, particularly with energy projects and reconstruction in Syria.
Russia can also provide Jordan with technologies, build its infrastructure and extend facilities that might ease its economic burdens. The St. Petersburg Economic Forum is slated to open a new chapter in bilateral relations. As Russia is turning toward the Middle East, it benefits Jordan to diversify its economic and political ties. Moscow and Amman should ensure that no country hinders or influences their relationship.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub).