Ukraine
Ukrainian army rolls on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine Image Credit: AP

Recently Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the May 9 parade, marking the annual anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazism, with pomp and ceremony.

Ideally, he would have wanted the Ukraine crisis to have ended with a decisive victory many weeks ago.

Instead it drags on with hefty costs and unimaginable consequences. Having had to alter the strategic objectives, Moscow redeployed some of its troops in the course of the ongoing war.

With the Nato alliance sending billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons to the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian army proving to be a tenacious foe, the Russian advance has proved to be costly.

What was supposed to be a quick operation is turning into a protracted war of attrition with high geopolitical stakes.

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Residents run near a burning house following a shelling Severodonetsk, Donbass region Image Credit: AFP

Military analysts believe that Russia will be able to overrun Ukrainian forces in areas such as Donbas eventually. But that will not quickly result in the end of sanctions against the Russian economy.

While the Europeans may soon show division and their peoples express frustration with the war — as the flow of Ukrainian refugees continues and the economic aftershocks of the sanctions begins to bite at home — the US and Britain appear adamant on ‘weakening’ Russia.

The repercussions of this war are already being felt all over the world and the Middle East is no exception. Food shortages, a break up in supply chains, rising inflation and fluctuating energy prices are just the beginning.

Even if the war ends soon, chances are that western sanctions on Russia will remain for some time and their effects on the global economy will be felt for years.

A geopolitical aftershock

But while the Middle East tries to offset the reverberations of the conflict with different outcomes, there is a geopolitical aftershock that can be expected to be felt as the Kremlin diverts its attention and much of its resources towards Ukraine.

Russia has stepped up its direct involvement in the region since after the so-called Arab Spring. It has taken sides in the Libyan civil war and in 2018. Moscow opposed Nato’s unilateral intervention in the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

In 2015 Moscow sent troops, armour and jet fighters to aid Syrian President Basher Assad. The Russian intervention helped and Moscow, for the first time, established permanent naval and airbases in Syria, allowing its navy to have a footing in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

Moscow’s presence in Syria has created a buffer zone between pro-Iranian militias and Israel. For the Israelis an understanding with Russia allowed the Israeli air force to limit Iranian military expansion in neighbouring Syria.

With Europe moving, rather reluctantly, to ban all energy imports from Russia at some stage, the role of gas and oil producing countries in the Gulf will prove crucial to the future of the stability of energy markets.

A wary Middle East

For a number of regional countries, Russia’s growing presence in the region ushered in a new geopolitical balance that was sorely needed as the US began its slow and chaotic withdrawal from the region.

Certainly, the Russians had critical influence over a number of issues including the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, the future of a Libyan reconciliation and, to a limited extent, the stalled Israel-Palestine peace process. Their role in ending the Syrian civil war remains crucial.

But as Russia gets deeply involved in the Ukrainian quagmire, much of the evolving regional geopolitical reality could change. At some point the Kremlin may want to relocate some of its military and naval assets in the region to support the conflict in Ukraine.

For now the Middle East is watching the evolving situation in Ukraine with concern. After the devastating effects of the pandemic, no one really wants to see a global recession set in.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.