Understanding Moscow’s Mideast Policy
A spoof of a BBC promo has been circulating on the Internet: “Greece is Collapsing, Iranians are getting aggressive & Rome is disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC!”
But you don’t have to go back to antiquity for news: “The Levant and the Balkans are boiling, the Turks are angry, the Russians are aggressive & the West is nervous. Welcome back to 1853!”
The bloodshed in Syria, the economic collapse of Greece, an assertive Russia and a nervous West are not going to produce a rerun of the Crimean War, when czarist Russia fought against a military alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire.
But at a time when neo-Ottomanism is rising in Ankara, it may not be surprising that Moscow is experiencing a resurgence of neo-Byzantinism.
Back in the early nineteenth century, international diplomacy was preoccupied by the Eastern question, posed by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and its loss of dominance over the greater Middle East.
Today, that same region remains a concern for the United States and its European allies as the collapse of the old order in the Middle East shatters the balance of power and erodes the West’s regional influence.
In early 1800s, Britain and France worried that Russia would exploit the weakness of the Ottomans and hence strengthen its position in the region. That’s why they allied themselves with the Turks.
Today, the United States views a more assertive Turkey as a bulwark against a Moscow that has been resisting pressure from Washington, London, Paris and Ankara to help oust Syrian president Bashar Assad.