In This Review

What Is Russia Up To in the Middle East?
What Is Russia Up To in the Middle East?
By Dmitri Trenin
144 pp, Polity, 2017

Trenin packs a great deal of substance into this slender volume. In quick strokes, he paints Russia’s history in the Middle East and President Vladimir Putin’s objectives over the last two decades. Putin has chosen the region as the theater to reassert Russia’s global role after its 25-year absence. Russia has no grand strategy for the Middle East, but it has managed overlapping and often antagonistic coalitions with great skill. As Trenin reminds readers, Russia unreservedly supported the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and in 2011, Putin tasked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with crafting a grand bargain with U.S. President Barack Obama. The effort failed, and after the Obama administration’s disastrous intervention in Libya later that year, which Russia had initially endorsed, Putin challenged the United States in the Middle East for the first time. Moscow still wants to strike deals with Washington on several specific issues: post-civil-war Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, the future of Afghanistan, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the last, Trenin shows that Putin has positioned himself to serve as a far more honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians than has the Trump team.