Putin’s Damascus Steal

How Russia Got Ahead in the Middle East

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attend a welcoming ceremony onboard guided missile cruiser Moskva at the Black Sea port of Sochi, August 12, 2014. Alexei Druzhinin / Reuters

This year, Moscow is celebrating the 45th anniversary of Operation Kavkaz, the Soviet military intervention on behalf of Egypt in the 1969–70 Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition. The engagement was a key moment in the history of the Cold War. It caught Western intelligence by surprise, and it was the first—and only—time the Soviet military fought the Israeli Defense Forces. Operation Kavkaz saved Russia’s closest ally from regime change and protected Moscow’s strategic assets on Egyptian soil. The Soviet Union’s subsequent activism in the region marked the height of Moscow’s Cold War achievements in the Middle East.

Once more, the Kremlin is increasingly assertive in the Middle East, and once more, it has surprised the West. Emboldened by its perceived success in addressing regional challenges and capitalizing on opportunities, it has gotten closer than ever to its key diplomatic objective: acquiring a regional status on par

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