Press Release – Jamestown Holds Third ‘Russia in the Middle East’ Workshop

Contact: Matthew Czekaj


On Monday, January 29, The Jamestown Foundation hosted the third and final workshop connected to the Russia in the Middle East special project, led jointly by the two Project Investigators—Dr. Theodore Karasik and Dr. Stephen Blank. Through a series of expert workshops, published papers and further planned briefings and events, the project aims to provide the basis and material for a multi-dimensional analysis of Russian strategy and tactics in the Middle East, bringing into sharp relief the depth and scope of Moscow’s strategy as well as its implications for US foreign policy.

The participants of Workshop 3 discussed a series of papers produced specially for this meeting, which focused on Russia in the Middle East to 2024 by building on the findings of Workshops 1 and 2, held last year. The exercise was to explore three key areas to watch for during Vladimir Putin’s next, and potentially last, six-year term as president: the sustainability of Russia’s policies in the Middle East; Russia’s energy strategy until 2024; and the nexus of the Russo-Islamic World.

Some of the major takeaways to come out of the third workshop include:

Russia’s campaign in Syria, regardless of setbacks and attacks against Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is seen as a platform for the rest of the Middle East region through 2024.

  • Russia’s campaign in Syria has allowed Moscow to re-emerge as a leading actor in the Middle East thanks largely to the use of hard power and coercive diplomacy.
  • As the March 18 presidential election approaches, Vladimir Putin will rely on his victories in the Middle East, despite recent setbacks, in his campaign rhetoric.
  • Putin will need to plan his strategy toward the region for his next term in office and to address any inter-agency disagreements between the Russia foreign ministry and defense ministry about ongoing strategy in Syria.
  • As the Syrian war’s overt military phase winds down, Russia will need to look beyond weapons in order to be recognized as a trusted partner among Sunni Arab states and might have to readjust its position toward existing partners, particularly Iran.
  • In the post–Syrian war Middle East, Russia may try to equally distance itself from all conflicting parties, as it does in Libya and in Yemen, in order to be recognized as an impartial regional referee. Other future confrontations are likely to rely on Moscow as a negotiator.

Russia’s relentless drive in the Middle East is tied to the future of energy markets.

  • Russia’s regional energy goals can be summarized as finding new markets for its oil and gas; attracting investment to replace Western capital blocked by sanctions; working with other energy exporters to stabilize international oil prices; undermining Europe’s efforts to diversify its natural gas supplies; and helping Russia deliver more oil and gas to Asia.
  • A favorable geopolitical environment coupled with higher oil prices has eased the Kremlin’s efforts to build bilateral energy relations with the regional powers.
  • Energy contracts give Russia presence, but actual control over regional infrastructure projects remains undetermined. This again raises questions about the sustainability of Moscow’s energy push into the Middle East during Putin’s fourth term.
  • Resilience of the American shale industry to the low oil price environment and the future of the Iran nuclear deal will be among the most significant elements that will influence Russia’s future in the region, and particularly the strength of its continued cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Serious questions remain about the sustainability of Russia’s push into the Middle East.

  • Russia is operating with limited resources everywhere in the world. It is doubtful that it can sustain a large continued military presence in the MENA region.
  • While Moscow tries to expand its presence, footprint and optics must be taken into consideration by policymakers. Russia’s actions in the Middle East must be measured in terms of influence, credibility and authenticity. It is possible that Russia does not need to do much to create the optics necessary for strategic and tactical success because of media amplification.
  • The US government needs a different set of metrics to measure Russia’s future influence in the Middle East, including discerning key differences in actual projection versus optics of influence.

Russia’s policy in the Islamic world will form a unique nexus with Arab States through 2024 and beyond.

  • Demography is among the most underappreciated drivers of contemporary Russian policy in the Middle East. Ongoing population decline—and the expansion of Russia’s own Muslim minority—has exerted a significant influence over Moscow’s attitudes and activities in the region over the past several year.
  • The growth and radicalization of “Muslim Russia” has helped propel the Kremlin into assuming a leading role in the Syrian civil war, and will play an important role in shaping Russia’s regional objectives for years to come.
  • The nexus between Muslim Russia and the Islamic Middle East is an extraordinary driver in Moscow’s current and future relationship with MENA. Muslim Russia and the Islamic Middle East build on historical, governmental and business ties, and are now focusing on counter-terrorism and messages of peaceful co-existence and tolerance.
  • Russia and the Gulf States are leading the moderation of Islam. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are articulating the same message now. The relative success of this trend will strongly reflect on Russia’s perceived policy success in the region.

All the papers from the first, second and third workshop are now available on The Jamestown Foundation’s website ( The third batch of papers includes:

Russia in the Middle East Until 2024: From Hard Power to Sustainable Influence
By Yuri Barmin

Demography’s Pull on Russian Mideast Policy
By Ilan Berman

Russia in the Middle East: Energy Forever?
By Rauf Mammadov

Still to come, the project leaders intend to hold a Congressional Briefing on this strategically important subject, followed by a monograph of the analytical findings and implications collected throughout the entire scope of the effort.


Project Investigators

Theodore Karasik

Dr. Theodore Karasik is currently a Senior Advisor to Gulf State Analytics and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute, both located in Washington, DC. Dr. Karasik spent 2004 through 2016 in the GCC, the Middle East and Russia. For the past 30 years, Karasik worked for a number of US agencies involved in researching and analyzing defense acquisition, the use of military power, and religious-political issues across MENA and Eurasia, including the evolution of violent extremism and its financing.

Dr. Karasik was an Adjunct Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government, where he taught graduate-level international relations, and also an Adjunct Lecturer at University Wollongong Dubai, where he taught labor and migration. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002 to 2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. He is a specialist in geopolitics and geo-economics for the MENA and Eurasia regions and frequently conducts studies and assessments of future security trajectories and military requirements.

Dr. Karasik received his PhD in History from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in four fields: Russia, Middle East, Caucasus and an outside field in cultural anthropology, focusing on tribes and clans from Central Asia to East Africa. He also holds a CPhil and MA in History and International Relations from UCLA and Monterey Institute of International Studies, respectively. He wrote his PhD dissertation on military and humanitarian operations in the northern port city of Arkhangel’sk and their impact on political institutions during the Russian civil war.


Stephen Blank

Dr. Stephen Blank is an internationally recognized expert on Russian foreign and defense policies and international relations across the former Soviet Union. He is also a leading expert on European and Asian security, including energy issues. Since 2013, he has been a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, in Washington. From 1989 until 2013, he was a Professor of Russian National Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College in Pennsylvania. Dr. Blank has been Professor of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute since 1989. In 1998–2001, he was Douglas MacArthur Professor of Research at the War College. Dr. Blank’s MA and PhD are in Russian History from the University of Chicago. His BA is in History from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Founded in 1984, The Jamestown Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research institution dedicated to providing timely information concerning critical political and strategic developments in China, Russia, Eurasia and the world of terrorism. Jamestown produces three periodic publications: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Terrorism Monitor and China Brief. Jamestown research and analysis is available to the public free-of-charge via Jamestown’s website,