Source: The Economist

Bombs and diplomacy, both part of the toolkit.

The black fur hat looked odd on a Libyan warlord. But fur is de rigueur in wintertime Moscow, which has become an essential stop for Middle Eastern leaders like Khalifa Haftar, who visited twice in 2016. This month his rival, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, dropped by. Jordan’s King Abdullah, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu have all stopped at the Kremlin for audiences with Vladimir Putin this year.

The visitors are a sign of Russia’s growing activity in the Middle East. “The policy is wider than just Syria,” says Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank. Russia’s interests in the region include security, arms sales and oil. But most important, the Middle East offers a platform to reinforce Russia’s status as a global power. “Those who have strong positions there will have strong positions in the world,” says Fyodor Lukyanov of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, a government advisory body.

Serving as a power-broker in Syria has helped Russia to cultivate relationships. It strives to maintain contacts across the Sunni-Shia and Israeli-Arab divides. While fighting alongside Iran in Syria, Mr Putin helped broker an oil-supply pact with Saudi Arabia. He has also developed a rapport with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repaired ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the downing of a Russian jet over Syria, and maintained friendly links with Israel’s Mr Netanyahu, even angling for a more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “They go out of their way to talk with everyone in a way that the Americans don’t,” says Mark Katz of George Mason University.  READ MORE…

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