The Russian perception of the Arab Spring is one of a geopolitical power play, which explains Russia’s limited interest in Tunisia and Egypt compared to its heavy involvement in Syria. Russia is unlikely to concede to leaving Syria as Syria is the place for Russia to balance the Western powers in the region while simultaneously carving out an influence zone for its own foreign policy. Thus, understanding Russia’s approach to the Arab Uprisings is a key factor in analysing Russian presence in Syria and its regional foreign policy.
Russia is working to expand its footprint in the Middle East, pursuing both diplomatic and commercial advantages. What Moscow is also aiming at is the diversification of relations beyond long-standing partners such as Iran and the Syrian regime. Building up its military presence in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad, it has also reached out to the Gulf countries. The Middle East is key to Russia’s bid to gain recognition as one of the pillars of a new multi-polar order, balance the US and assert power in its neighbourhood. But such ambitions are still a long way from attainment, while risks originating from the region, from the rise of jihadist militancy to collapsing oil prices, are all too real.