06/25/2012, 00.00
RUSSIA-MIDDLE EAST

Putin travels to Middle East "to strengthen Russian influence"

by Nina Achmatova
The head of the Kremlin will visit Israel, Palestinian Territories and Jordan, while the tension mounts on Syria and Iran, Russia wants to boost its image as a superpower.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - With the escalation of tension between Ankara and Damascus, the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the stalled negotiations between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, comes Vladimir Putin's official visit of in the Middle East, the first since returning to the Kremlin last May. As announced by the presidential adviser, Yuri Ushakov, Putin will hold talks on "bilateral and international issues" with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. "Such a weighty visit to the Middle East - said Ushakov - highlights the significance of the region within our foreign policy priorities and aims to facilitate the strengthening of Russia's positions in that part of the world."

Since the former KGB agent returned to power in Russia, many have spoken of a new Cold War climate, with Moscow determined not to make free concessions to the West, especially in light of the frustrating Libyan experience. The Federation has no intention of cede its role in the Middle East - where it is Damascus' last true ally and an important customer for the arms industry - and wants to negotiate with all parties involved, both President Bashar al-Assad, as well as put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program. Among the Kremlin's objectives  - contrary to any form of international intervention and officially motivated by humanitarian concerns - is a reaffirmation of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of a country, after the intervention to topple Gaddafi in Libya. Another source of confrontation with the West is the goal of slowing down the deployment of the U.S. and NATO missile shield in Eastern Europe: one part is already deployed in Turkey and is directed against both Iran and towards the Russian bases in the Black Sea and Moscow wants written assurances that the project will not undermine its strategic deterrence capability.

In Israel, which is pushing for more action against Tehran, Putin will hold talks with both the president and the prime minister. The last round of the 5 +1 in Moscow (18-19 June) failed to gain any results: the ayatollahs' regime continues to demand it be given the right to civilian nuclear energy while the concerns of the West and Israel wants intervention. On 26 June, however, the Russian head of state will make a stop in Bethlehem, where he will meet Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and intra-Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The tour will end in Jordan. Here Putin will attend the opening of a pilgrim hostel on the Jordan River and meet King Abdullah II.

According to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, the current Kremlin policy is to restore Russia to superpower status, equating it to China and the United States. For this reason, a compromise must be found with Moscow, despite the unorthodox methods of Putin's Kremlin, forgotten in the brief and conciliatory interlude of his predecessor, Medvedev, increasingly seen as a having a a"loser" in Russian diplomacy and in domestic public opinion.

 

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