It is no accident that the Middle East is called the energy storehouse of the world and that it plays a major role in global economics and politics. Comparison with a storehouse is not a metaphor, but the truth. Two-thirds of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves are located in the region. It is very rich in high-quality raw material, which due to geological conditions, is cheap.
The MENA area also has industrial reserves of gold, silver, other non-ferrous, rare metals, and uranium, the exploitation of which can become the foundation for new modern branches of economy.
Above all, the region has excellent opportunities for the development of alternative energy resources which at the same time can be cost-effective. This is the energy of sun, wind, and sea. These factors, in addition to its exceptionally important strategic position at the crossroads of the world’s civilisations, create favourable conditions for the accelerated socio-economic development of Middle Eastern countries.
In recent decades, MENA states have used their funds effectively for the development of infrastructure, social programs, and the diversification of their economies. There is an increasing awareness among these countries of global changes, and the need to withdraw themselves from the vicious circle of ever-developing, but forever ‚backwards‘ communities – communities which are rich, but pariahs stuck in the backyard of the civilised world.
The data on GDP growth in states in the Middle East is indicative in this regard. Over the past 10 years in Turkey, GDP has increased by 27%, in Saudi Arabia by 55%, in Iran by 20%, in UAE by 35%, in Egypt by 158%, in Iraq by 93%, in Oman by 58%, in Lebanon by 93%, and in Jordan by 126%. To be fair, some countries have had ups and downs. For example, Tunisia, where I served as ambassador, can now boast only 8% growth.
And yet, it seems that in the policy-making circles of some MENA states there is an awareness of the new challenges of the modern era. A number of countries have developed (or are now developing) ambitious scientifically-based modernisation programs aimed at mastering new technologies, diversifying the economy and changing the largely archaic pattern of people’s way of life. Among them: Saudi Arabia with its new Vision 2030 plan, and various other development plans in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.
Joining in with the process of innovative technological learning has become a vital task for the leadership of the MENA countries. The point is that one-third of the region’s population is aged 15 to 29 and another third is children under 15 years of age. The priority for leadership is to provide millions of young people with modern general and professional education and then to supply them with a job according to their profession (unemployment among Arab youth is twice the world average). By 2020 it will be necessary to create 60 million new jobs. According to the well-known Arab economist Khalid Abdallah Janahi, investments in youth are the most promising in efforts to achieve stability and social justice.
An indispensable condition for regional development is the resolution of its numerous conflicts and the establishment of stability. Political analysts name the following four major hotbeds of tension as the most complex, urgent, and pressing: the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the internal disintegration of Libya, and Kurdish nationalism. A number of other conflicts are constantly emerging or reappearing (for example, in Western Sahara, and the discord between the two Sudanese states). Yemen is torn by fratricidal strife. UN representatives recently characterised the situation in the country as the greatest humanitarian disaster in the world.
The unresolved Palestinian problem – the fate of refugees, the status of Jerusalem, undefined borders, and settlement activities – keeps its wounds open. The events of the so-called Arab Spring had immensely destructive consequences for the region, plunging it into tragic chaos, bringing tremendous hardships and deprivation, and causing the disintegration of some countries.
The most alarming, dangerous component of the contemporary situation in the MENA region is the Syrian crisis and the threat of Islamist terrorist organisations – ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others.
The turning point in the situation in Syria that saved its population from destruction by the barbaric Islamic caliphate came on 30 September 2015. In response to a request from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, Russia launched large-scale military operations against terrorist organisations in the territory. It was Russia’s actions which prevented the establishment of an extremist regime in Syria with unpredictable consequences for the entire region.
From the very beginning of the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Russia has taken a very clear and logical position: those who are acting on Syrian territory or in its airspace without the previous consent of the Syrian government are violating international law. Moscow’s principal goal is to suppress terrorism, to put an end to bloody civil war and to pave the way for solutions to humanitarian problems. In achieving these goals, Russia has adopted a pragmatic approach in interacting with the United States in efforts to bring peace and stability to Syria and the region in general. It is always ready for constructive and honest dialogue with the US to address regional or global topics.
Efforts made by the Russian military over the last two years led to the most important shifts in the balance of power. Today, 90% of the country’s territory has been liberated.
Parallel to military and humanitarian operations, political initiatives within the framework of the UN were launched: the Astana format – regular roundtable negotiations which help opposing sides in the Syrian conflict find common ground and work out a compromise solution. It was in Astana that the first vital decision – a ceasefire in specified areas of the country – was approved.
The decisive success, of course, is the creation of four zones of de-escalation. The agreements on zones, which Russia’s military helped coordinate to bring about a ceasefire, dramatically reduced overall violence and ensured humanitarian access. And it is not only the agreement about the zones, which is an important achievement in itself, but also the fact that after years of hostilities and hatred the mutual trust between people, between families which were torn by war, is now being restored.
In this regard, Russia is probably the only country that is negotiating with all the conflicting parties without exception. All members of the Syrian opposition, including the most radical ones, come to Russia and meet with Russian officials. Russia feels great satisfaction that its efforts yield positive results in bringing parties closer and in creating more confidence and understanding between them.
Intensive work in Astana is continuing and bringing about important positive results. This directly applies to the main aspects of the situation in Syria, especially in view of the important progress and positive results which had already been achieved in elaborating the future political structure of the country.
Finally, the willingness to end the war in Syria and establish peaceful conditions is, in fact, being practised. An encouraging signal in this regard is that Syrians are beginning to return to their homes, and are starting to rebuild their destroyed houses.
Today we can say that the Syrian crisis is hopefully passing into its final stage and at last we can see light at the end of the tunnel. There is a general acknowledgement of the fact that this has become possible as a result of Russia’s actions. Russia has once again shown that it really is a reliable and powerful force that comes to help its friends when they are in need and that it can save them from desperate situations. Russia is sincerely doing that in the name of peace and stability in the world, for the sake of justice, human values, and enhancing mutual respect throughout the world.
Undoubtedly, the joint actions of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are extremely important in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria. We also have good prospects for a political settlement in Iraq and Libya (although due to the intervention of Western powers they are bogged down in crisis).The role of regional states – Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel – has significantly increased recently. There are new alliances, for example, between Turkey and Qatar, and the ‚quartet‘ of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.
The changing balance of power in the region will lead to an even greater strengthening of the role of the neighbourhood’s states. The West is in crisis. Political tensions in the United States have escalated. Contradictions inside the European Union have become so acute that analysts speak of the beginning of the breakup of the EU (for example, the events related to the Catalan referendum).
The strategically important zones of the MENA region and the Eastern Mediterranean are close to Russia’s borders and it is natural that priority has always been given to maintaining stability and preserving good relations with the countries of the region. The Arab states have acted with reciprocal readiness to further develop relations with Russia which are built on the basis of mutual respect, mutual interests, and common moral values.
There is a profound understanding in the world that Russia’s participation in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups is aimed at curbing and eradicating terrorism and creating favourable conditions for establishing peace and stability in the Middle East.
Terrorism today is a real menace to all countries. Terrorist organisations and those who are using terrorists for their own purposes are committing crimes against humanity. But terrorism cannot be eradicated by military means alone or done so unilaterally. This task can only be achieved by intensive collective efforts. There is an urgent need for a universal anti-terrorist front. In his speech at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the creation of a broad front against terrorism. His appeal is even more pressing and vital today.
Russia’s politics is distinguished by transparency, honesty, and goodwill. We have no ‚double standards‘. We do not impose our views, ideas, or convictions on others. Russia has always respected principles of the sovereignty of people, their identities, cultures, and traditions.
Nowadays people in Arab countries accept with profound satisfaction the fact that Russia continues to confidently fulfil its key role in maintaining peace, ensuring security, and creating conditions for the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in the region. That is why Russia is highly appreciated in the Arab world.
We must admit that the global situation remains very complicated and unpredictable. Age-old conflicts continue to smoulder and new hotbeds of bloodshed are constantly emerging. Terrorist groups are spreading around the globe, bringing menace and destruction. Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in creating a global front against these common challenges. Why has this not happened? The main reason is that some countries are eager to advance their own exceptional interests, ignoring or even abusing the legal interests of others.
But it is obvious that contemporary global problems can be solved only by joint efforts. It is the only logical way.
It is also evident new centres of economic and political power have emerged in the international arena. And there is a general trend that these centres are prepared to take responsibility for the stability and sustainable development of their countries, and for preserving their identity, historical values, and cultural heritage.
We can say that humanity is now at a crossroads. The world could be plunged into chaos and eventual destruction. But there is another road. We, the people of the planet, through collective action, can break the vicious circle of hatred, confrontation, and hostilities and reach a trustworthy agreement to act together side by side on the basis of mutual respect for the sake of peace, wellbeing, and the prosperity of all peoples. Russia is travelling along that road for the future of humanity.
We will continue to safeguard eternal human values, justice, transparency, and tolerance. Russia has no intention of harming anyone. We will be indefatigably firm in our efforts in search of mutually acceptable compromises and peaceful political resolutions to disputes, controversies, and conflicts.
In that context, President Putin’s speech at the recent session of the Valdai forum is worth noting: “All contradictions should be resolved in a civilised way. We are firmly convinced that even the most complicated crisis, whether in Syria, Libya, the Korean peninsula, or Ukraine must be solved not by cutting knots but by its disentanglement.”
In practical terms, this means Russia will intensify its contacts and ties on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. Special attention will be given to the expansion of cooperation within the framework of regional and international organisations and associations where all the decisions are made on the basis of consensus and mutual respect of the interests of all participants.
Russia is determined to confirm that it realises its role and responsibilities in world affairs. As Putin emphasised at Valdai, “Russia is prepared to act as a guarantor of global stability.”
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