Letter From the Editors: Dec. 11 - 17, 2017

Author: Matthew Larson

Presidential Politics Makes a Stop in the Middle East.

This week the Russian and US presidents used a most unlikely region for some good old domestic politicking: the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump is trying to make good on some election promises before the year is out. On Dec. 6, he announced that the US would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The change will keep his evangelical base happy but also likely create a stir among Arab allies. The official Russian response to the move was moderate censure. Opinions among Russian experts regarding the ramifications are mixed, with some saying the decision is objectively fair and correct (Gevorg Mirzayan), others saying it is a blunder that will enable Russia to expand its role in the Middle East (Aleksei Khlebnikov), and still others calling it an expedient move that will force the Palestinians to take more active steps toward settlement (Aleksandr Shumilin).

Russian president Vladimir Putin, now officially seeking reelection, also saw opportunities in the Middle East for scoring points with voters. Less than a week after announcing his candidacy in the 2018 presidential election, Putin’s plane unexpectedly touched down at Syria’s Hmeimim air base, where he congratulated Russian troops on a mission accomplished there and touted Russia’s military might. Vladimir Frolov says the event should be seen purely in the context of Putin’s reelection bid. Even though the main issues in the election are likely to be domestic ones, such as rising utility rates and health care costs, tying up the loose ends in Syria on a rah-rah patriotic note is an important task ahead of the election, especially given that the Syria operation has never generated many political dividends for the Kremlin.

Putin continued in campaign mode at his annual year-end press conference, where he felt at ease on the stump. He plugged economic ...

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