Ehsan Taghvaeinia

Yemen Status in Russia's New Strategies

Date of publication : October 10, 2016 16:03 pm
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Yemen
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Yemen's President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi during a meeting on April 2, 2013 in Moscow, Russia

Reflected in Russian’s state and non-state media, it is very difficult to understand Moscow’s stance on the Yemen crisis. Major interpretations of Russian’s media and authorities about Yemen developments are also based on the fact that the West, headed by the US, show double standards in their policies on this issue. Another important point is that Russian media have equated the clashes in Yemen with the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to Russians, the main aim of Saudi Arabia military operations in Yemen is to pull the rug from under Iran’s feet in West Asia, because the nuclear deal of Iran with western powers, while Iran’s influence on the region is expanding, has unfolded an adverse scenario to the Saudis. Since Iran achieved considerable successes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the question here is that what will happen after a compromise between Iran and the West, lifting of sanctions, and Iran’s exit from international isolation?
Russia can play a role in Yemen in two ways. First of all, geopolitical importance of Yemen and the history of Russia’s presence in this country make Moscow include Yemen developments in its priorities. Secondly, Russia’s reappearance in Yemen is a lever for imposing pressure on Saudi Arabia or adjusting Russia’s relations with this country. In fact, Russia views the Yemen crisis as a long-term and systematic matter, without any hallucination about a prospect of real presence for political and economic interests. In addition, Moscow follows any rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia with caution, because Russia actually is concerned about being engaged in the Shia-Sunni conflict.
Russia’s stance on the Yemen crisis has to be analyzed in the context of the general approach of Moscow towards the West Asia. According to Vitaly Naumkin, an eminent Russian analyst, Russia will play a more independent and active role in regional conflicts from now on and that’s why Moscow is developing relationships with all parties involved in Yemen and other countries in this region. However, it seems far-fetched that Russians support for the Houthis to be as much as their decisive support for Assad in Syria, because Yemen and Syria are not of the same priority to Russia; there is a strategic base of Russia in Tartus, Syria, while they do not have the same vital interests in Yemen now.
Russians are faced with some limitations for unilateral supporting of the Houthis. They know well that Yemen is now a battlefield for Iran (Shia) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and although the US openly supports Riyadh, direct support of Russia for the Yemeni Houthis may put them against Sunni countries, which is not considered in contrast with Russia's interests. Therefore, it seems that involvement of Russia in the Yemen crisis should be analyzed from the perspective that Moscow is ready to take a mediating role in crisis settlement, something different from their function in Syria. Considering the policy of maintaining the status quo in the region and Yemen, Russia is opposed to any foreign intervention in this Arabic country. Not long ago, by referring to examples of interference in Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, also announced that Moscow wants to maintain the existing order in the region.

Ehsan Taghvaeinia, an expert on Eurasia Affairs, is the guest contributor to IRAS.      

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