Letter From the Editors: May 22 - 28, 2017

Author: Xenia Grushetsky

When It Comes to Geopolitics, Is Russia All Out of Chips - or Running the Table?

Imagine a smoke-filled room, tuxedo-clad players gathered around a green felt table strewn with chips, cigar butts and half-empty glasses. A scene from a classic James Bond movie? Or the modern geopolitical scene? There was no shortage of gambits this week as many players went all-in. Some lost big, some won and as for the rest - well, they’re still tallying their chips.

US President Donald Trump - usually one of the more unpredictable players in the room - decided to raise the stakes and tackle the complex Middle East peace process. According to Kommersant’s Sergei Strokan, given "mounting problems at home, the head of the White House is trying to seize the upper hand from his opponents by achieving a breakthrough in the Arab and Muslim world." Hardly a humble undertaking, given how many previous presidents tried and failed in this tricky arena. Trump is also determined to forge a military and political alliance in the Middle East that some have dubbed an "Arab NATO."

Some experts doubt that such an alliance is feasible. Andrei Akulov points out that attempts to create such alliances in the Middle East date back to World War II. "The key actors - Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt - have different strategies and goals," he says, summing up the crux of the problem. In addition, Trump’s staunch anti-Iranian stance as he tries to rally the Sunni Arab world could put him at odds with another power player at the poker table - Russia. As one member of the tripartite alliance on Syria (the other two being Iran and Turkey), Russia is in no hurry to relinquish its Middle East position by selling out Tehran, its key ally in the region.

However, Moscow’s position seems shaky of late. ...

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