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BIPR | SAIS Europe Faculty Panel -- The Ukraine-Middle East Connection: International and Regional Repercussions of the War in Ukraine
SAIS Europe Faculty Panel -- The Ukraine-Middle East Connection: International and Regional Repercussions of the War in Ukraine

April 7, 2022 - 18:30

Raffaella A. Del Sarto - Ali Aydin Karamustafa - Michael Leigh - Sergey Radchenko - Sanam Vakil

Event Recap

Hosted by Professor Rafaella Del Sarto, members of SAIS Europe's faculty convened on April 7 to discuss the connection between the Ukraine and the Middle East, and more specifically the regional (and international) repercussions of the ongoing Russian invasion. A few hours after the UN General Assembly voted in favour of removing Russia from the Human Rights Council, Del Sarto began by outlining the inherent links between the situation in the Ukraine and the Middle East. From the issue of Iranian nuclear talks to Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict and the question of alternative energy suppliers, Del Sarto made it clear that there were a number of significant connections between the two regions.

Professor Vakil opened the panel discussion by offering some insights into the connection between the war in Ukraine and current deliberations over a revised JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran. Like other states in the region, Vakil argued that Iran had managed "to make a devastating war about themselves" – reflecting the growing multipolar dynamics within Middle Eastern politics. Critical within this framework is the US which, given its influence on regional relationships, continues to impose devastating sanctions on Iran. For Moscow, Vakil contended, Iran's "sanction-busting system" served as an important outlet to exploit in light of increased concerns among Western-backed Middle Eastern powers due to the civil war in Yemen and the actions of the Iran-sponsored Houthi rebels there.

Following on from a discussion on Iran, Professor Del Sarto outlined Israel's role in the current crisis. Acknowledging that Israel has thus far failed to offer any military aid to Ukraine, Del Sarto contended that there were a number of reasons as to why the government in Jerusalem has maintained its wavering position despite U.S. pressure. Apart from the issue of the Iran nuclear deal, mentioned by Professor Vakil, another reason for Israel's hesitance relates to the conflict in Syria. Given the involvement of Russia and the need for Israel to maintain an operative edge and avoid direct confrontation, it must maintain good relations with Moscow. Moreover, domestic concerns also influence Israel's foreign policy. Home to around 1.5 million Russian speaking citizens, Israel is eager to uphold good economic and political relations with Russia.

Subsequently, Professor Radchenko provided an overview of Russian involvement in the Syrian war and the lessons to be drawn for the Ukraine. Although Radchenko recognised Russia's success in Syria and the largely misplaced scepticism of its military operations by Western observers, he argued that Putin had wrongly believed he would be able to accomplish something similar in the Ukraine war. This is particularly clear given the evident similarities in terms of military strategy, both conflicts demonstrate a continuity and emphasis on urban warfare as well as a reliance on mercenaries, such as those from the Russian paramilitary organisation the Wagner Group. Highlighting Russia's role in helping to orchestrate Belarus' migrant crisis at the beginning of the year as part of a deliberate strategy to divide European public opinion, Radchenko acknowledged the value of the Middle East as a "point of pressure for Europe".

Dr. Karamustafa added to the discussion by drawing on examples from Turkey. Firstly, he highlighted the country's seemingly ambivalent position, remaining neutral and attempting to act as a mediator. Despite blocking naval access to the Black Sea and providing the Ukraine with military arms, Ankara has also refused to participate in sanctions against Russia and has remained open to "Russian people, planes and oligarchs". Furthermore, Karamustafa pointed out that Turkey's role in the Ukraine conflict is also linked to its attempts at boosting its image in the international arena. From a geopolitical perspective, Turkey has often been considered "a sort of pariah state" in the Middle East and also within NATO, he argued. Therefore, the current crisis provides Turkey with a new way-in to the fold: that of a political mediator. By offering to negotiate, it is clear Turkey desires an end to the conflict – however, given its dire economic situation, Erdogan's government is unwilling to sever its deep ties with Russia. Similarly, Turkey's arms industry benefits from an increase in demand as a result of ongoing war. Finally, Karamustafa argued that many in Turkey attribute blame of the Ukraine crisis to NATO, rather than Russia – helping to illustrate the state of public opinion.

Last but not least, Professor Leigh concluded with the role of the EU within this larger Middle Eastern-Ukraine framework. Acknowledging the "unusual degree of unity" in the EU's response to the invasion and subsequent welcoming of refugees, he questioned for how long that would be the case and whether increased burdens on member states would give way to underlying differences and tensions. In terms of military support, the EU has acted in a relatively unified manner, contributing €1bn of EU funds to purchase weapons from member states. Given apparent differences in countries, however, such as the high dependency on Russian gas in Germany and Italy, the issue of sanctions and embargoes has been more testing. In many ways, Professor Leigh contended, the crisis in Ukraine is exposing the manner by which energy security and climate security are in tension with each other. Finally, Leigh commented on EU enlargement and the prospect of the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova being encouraged by the current crisis to apply for membership.



Full Audio:

SAIS Europe Faculty Panel -- The Ukraine-Middle East Connection: International and Regional Repercussions of the War in Ukraine
The Middle East 10 Years after the Uprisings Series

hosted by Professor Raffaella A. Del Sarto

Raffaella A. Del Sarto
Ali Aydin Karamustafa
Michael Leigh
Sergey Radchenko
Sanam Vakil

The event will be held in hybrid mode. SAIS Europe students, faculty, and staff are allowed to attend in person in the Penthouse. External guests are welcome to participate by registering for the online webinar using the link below.

Raffaella A. Del Sarto - Chair
Ali Aydin Karamustafa
Michael Leigh
Sergey Radchenko
Sanam Vakil

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