Posted by: bklunk | February 19, 2007

Putin’s Magical Mystery Tour

Selling Russia « Engineering with a Global Twist

Russian President Putin was on a tour of the Middle East, something he last did in 2005. Putin visited Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar. This normally typical tour of nations, one of the many job descriptions of a head of state, piqued my interest.Putin met with the King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia to discuss major issues like the Iraq War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This visit also concerned the oil trade between the Middle East and Russia. Putin wanted to help improve trade relations and cooperation.

This visit seems odd. I realize that this trip seems unassuming and procedural, but a few observations came to my head. First, Putin visited nations with overall friendly ties to the United States. In case of a possibly escalating situation between Russia and the U.S., Putin may want to ensure that those countries will not immediately side with the U.S. Keeping warm relations can only help. Second, Putin’s visit may have effects on the region. Russia has historically been at odds with the U.S. regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. is harsher with Iran while Russia favors a more passive approach. Putin may want to spread the arguments for his side, perhaps to reassure leaders should Iran have a fully operational nuclear program. Lastly, Putin’s aggressive comments about the U.S. were spoken during his tour albeit in Germany. Putin most likely sees the U.S. in a vulnerable position: the drawn-out Iraq War, the recent midterm elections, relations with North Korea and Iran.

Whatever Putin’s motivations, he clearly wanted to accomplish something during the trip which would benefit Russia. With Russia’s economy on the upswing, Putin wants to flex some muscle on the international stage.

I think the last couple sentences of this post may be on to something.

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  1. Although very few aspects of Putin’s presidency has really aligned with United States expectations or wishes, Putin’s recent comments and behavior are even more alarming than normal. The world has noticed that Russia has not exactly “democratized” under Putin’s rule, but these relatively anti-American sentiments and comments are drawing even more attention. The United States should definitely be paying attention to Russia and be very concerned about its diplomatic relations with that state–it appears that Russia is headed away from cooperation with the United States and down another path entirely.

    Additionally, although it makes sense that Russia would want to counteract some United States influence in what had traditionally been Russia’s realm, it is rather peculiar that it chooses to talk with countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Central Asian countries. These countries and Russia have competing economic , and probably even social and political, interests. It does appear then, that Putin is “flexing some muscle on the international stage” and take advantage of a rather over-extended United States, rather than legitimately promoting Russia’s economic interests abroad.

  2. During Putin’s visit to the Middle East, I also agree that Russia was “flexing some muscles on the international stage.” I am also skeptical to believe that Putin’s visit was anything more than a strategy to ensure that Russia would continue to thrive economically through their abundant natural resources, particularly oil.

    Russia is in a comfortable position right now. They are cooperating with Iran regarding nuclear research, which makes them appear diplomatic to other countries that have interest in developing technologies for nuclear arms. Russia also has economic ties through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to oil-rich countries in Central Asia. Most importantly, they are considered to be on their way to becoming a multipolar system with China and India.

    As President, Putin is in a powerful position and seemingly in control of his people. However, there is one key area that Putin does not have a stronghold of- his country’s natural resources. With its abundant, yet hard to extract energy, reserves, Russia is a high cost oil producer. Therefore, Russia is essentially dependent on instability in the Middle East to keep oil prices high and its budget revenues higher. I doubt that Putin would go so far as to spur on instability in the Middle East, but it certainly does appear that he did not visit in order to create peace. He may have taken the trip to act ensure that the countries are not any closer to achieving peace. Furthermore, it’s possible that Russia’s partnership with Iran in nuclear research could be a way to foster apprehensive of other Middle Eastern countries toward Iran, which would increase the amount of instability.

    Since we are unsure of Putin’s exact reasoning for going to the Middle East, the U.S. should continue to be aware that Russia is politically opposed to us. In addition, we can inform the Middle East of any suspicions that we have about Russia, as well as pressuring Iran to discontinue enriching uranium.

  3. Putin and his recent tour is very interesting to me. While visiting these countries trying to build relations he took that opportunity to openly criticize the United States. Further he seems to be trying to build relations with countries whom the US is at odds with. Russia seems to be trying to use their opposition to the US to help build up their power, and becomes a major player on the world stage.

    The other interesting part of this is the potential alliance with Iran. Especially since Russia has been exerting their authority over the oil in their region. Recently they turned off the oil supply to several of the border countries wh tried to stand up to their oil prices. Now, if they partner with Iran and their control over the oil of their region, it could lead to a really interesting if not troubling. Especially if Russia continues to stir the pot with the US on the world platform.

  4. It can be easily said that Putin’s recent trip to the Arab countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are definitely steps of strategic importance and not just a mere formality or polite gesture. As one of the very few trips Russian leaders have made in the past, Putin’s goals of cooperation come in many forms. Aside from economical business trade benefits, Russia’s has been aiding and supporting these nations topple their internal stability problems such as Islamic radicalization, just as it has been facing in recent times. “Russia diversified its foreign policy by revising its pro-Western leanings of the 1990s and focusing on internal stability, and by maintaining an ethnic and confessional balance also dependent on the Islamic factor.” They have also been trying to play the role of mediators between East and West; within the past couple years, Russia has made significant initiatives in the Middle East peace process, as well as the establishment of strong business relations.
    At the same time “the Middle East is learning to trust Russia, as demonstrated by the observer status it was granted in the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2005, and the establishment of the Russia-Muslim World Strategic Vision Group in 2006”. “The Group’s goal is to elaborate a common vision of regional crises – the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iran – and to coordinate mutual interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia.” In addition, a few Arab countries have expressed the notion of wanting another powerful state actor to counterbalance the US in the region. In doing so, of the three countries Saudi Arabian leaders are mentioning an increase of trade somewhere between the figures of 2-3 billion. Of the trade agreements, much of it has been focused on the oil and gas sectors; however talks about power generation, transportation, construction and space exploration were other aspects of the trade increase.
    Therefore it is obvious to see that a visit like this is seemingly important and has lots of implications for the future of Russia and its Arab counterparts. Without such steps, Russia’s grip and stance on the world plateau would come to an end.

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