After long, Russia makes its regional presence felt

Luke Baker –
In the two weeks since attacks blamed on missiles or drones shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil output, the country that has arguably moved most deftly to position itself for any upside is Russia.
Within hours of the attacks, Moscow’s state arms exporter said it would hold talks with countries in the Middle East on selling them new anti-drone weapons systems, muscling in on a market long dominated by the United States.
Next month, President Vladimir Putin is set to visit Saudi and the Gulf, a chance to deepen cooperation on energy and oil, drum up investment and promote Russia’s Pantsir group of anti-UAV weaponry, the arms systems the state export company will put on display at the Dubai Airshow in November.
“Recent events in the world have shown that the effective fight against reconnaissance and strike UAVs, as well as other air attack weapons, is becoming increasingly important to ensure the protection of high-priority facilities,” Rosoboronexport said in a press release issued days after the Saudi attacks.
To a large extent Moscow’s manoeuverings reflect opportunism — Putin seldom misses an opportunity to expose any perceived US shortcoming or to needle his rivals.
But it also underscores his growing confidence in projecting influence in the region, building on the role Moscow has played in shoring up Bashar al Assad in Syria, managing to deal with both Israel and Iran, and selling missile systems to Nato member Turkey despite US objections.
At a news conference in Ankara on September 16, where Putin attended a summit with the presidents of Turkey and Iran, his self-assurance was on full display, all but trolling the United States, which sells the Patriot missile-defence system to Saudi, in saying that Riyadh should buy from Moscow instead.
“All the political leaders of Saudi Arabia have to do is take a wise decision, as Iran did by buying the S-300 missile system, and as President Erdogan did when he bought Russia’s latest S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft system,” he said, prompting chuckles from President Hassan Rouhani alongside him.
To Moscow watchers, the intent is clear.
“Russia is positioning itself as a systemic actor in the Middle East, which means no ‘problem’ big or small will be left unturned by the Kremlin,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. “They want to be everywhere and meddle in everything to become an indispensable actor,” he said, describing the ultimate ambition as becoming a ‘rule shaper’ for the region. — Reuters