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How does Russia challenge U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East?

Question submitted by Elias El Mrabet, from Universite Libre de Bruxelles, April 15, 2013

Answered by: Frank G. Klotz, Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies and Arms Control

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Russia's pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East has led it to challenge U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region, most notably in the two-year civil war in Syria. Russia has repeatedly vetoed U.S.-supported UN resolutions intended to sanction Syria and to pressure president Bashar al-Assad into relinquishing power.

Russia has long-standing ties with Syria. Many in the Russian military and government served in Syria during the Cold War. The Russian Navy still maintains a small, ramshackle facility in the port of Tartus—the only remaining Russian military installation outside the former Soviet Union. Russia continues to be a major supplier of Syria's military hardware. And, an estimated thirty thousand Russian citizens currently reside in Syria—many of them the spouses of Syrian nationals.

The Russian government generally rejects outside intervention in any nation's internal affairs, including the Syrian civil war. Russia urges instead a negotiated solution between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Russia is deeply concerned about a post-Assad Syria, and the potential loss of Russian influence in the region. Syria represents Russia's last real foothold in the Middle East. Russia also fears that instability in the Middle East, whether in Syria or elsewhere, could spill over into areas closer to home, possibly stoking unrest in Russia's own restive regions and among its own sizable Muslim population.

Russia today may have less influence in the Middle East than previously, but it continues to have a stake in the region's stability and sees it as an area in which it has important national interests, often at variance with U.S. goals and objectives.