Turkey Parlaying UAV Sales Into Prominent Position in Emerging Multipolar Gulf Security Architecture

Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı UAV on display at Teknofest Aerospace and Technology Festival in 2019.


…Thanks to these agreements, hundreds of companies producing subsystems in the Turkish defense and aviation industry will expand their export portfolios…”


There is a growing perception that Arab Gulf monarchies are intent on diversifying their defense and security partnerships beyond the United States’ security umbrella. A recent analysis in the prominent Saudi-owned monthly magazine al-Majalla argues that this new “multi-polar Gulf security” architecture is caused in part by the perceived decline in U.S. security commitments. Turkey, the article argues, is among the key countries ready to play a greater role in Gulf security.[i]

A key element of Turkish global military influence has been the success of its UAV exports, especially the Bayraktar TB-2 drones, manufactured by the Turkish company Baykar.[ii] In September 2022, the UAE placed an order for 120 TB-2 drones—at that time, the largest order ever.[iii] With reports of limited TB-2 inventory due to production constraints and high export demands, the deal was expected to have a localization component whereby some of the elements of manufacturing and production would occur on Emirati soil. Baykar delivered 20 units to the UAE shortly after the deal was announced. Since then, there has been no official follow-up or public reporting on the matter. However, the 2022 Emirati deal has officially been eclipsed in value by a Saudi-Turkish deal for Akinci UAVs—the most advanced drone made by Baykar—signed during Turkish President Erdogan’s mid-July 2023 visit to Saudi Arabia. Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar explains that the deal not only helps align Turkey and Saudi defense sector priorities but is expected to have a positive windfall across Turkey’s defense industry, according to the second accompanying excerpt, from an interview published in the global defense-focusednewswebsite Breaking Defense.  The deal has an explicit localization component stipulating that up to 70 percent of each unit could be produced in Saudi Arabia.[iv] Involving Saudi military industry in the production process will not only ease the pressures on production in Turkey, but will also meet key Saudi “Vision 2030” goals for its domestic defense industry.[v] It will also provide a major boost to Saudi capabilities, after its arsenal of Chinese import UAVs have underperformed in the Yemen conflict.[vi] Turkey, meanwhile, is receiving a much-needed influx of Gulf money in the hopes of stabilizing rampant inflation and persistent economic volatility.


Sources:

تركيا… الوافد الأمني الجديد إلى الخليج (Turkey… the new entrant to Gulf security),” al-Majalla (Saudi-owned news magazine), 24 July 2023. https://tinyurl.com/ktky387m

The repercussions of regional fluctuations and the obligations to compensate for the decline in the level of United States security commitments have prompted the Arab Gulf states to change their strategies on three levels: diversification in sources of arms supplies, diversification in partnerships, and diversification in alliances. Although the United States remains by far the most important security player in the Gulf, diversification strategies have opened the door for regional, external, traditional, and newcomer actors such as China, India, Russia, and Turkey to become involved in the Gulf region. This situation has led to what can be called “multi-polar Gulf security,” which raises many questions about the prospects for Gulf security and the potential role of newcomers in the region…

It is difficult to predict the future in a highly volatile and unstable region, especially with the countless variables involved in each situation. However, with the current trend of the United States continuing to detach from the region and in light of Turkey’s rising regional position and rapid leaps in the defense industry, Ankara may have an opportunity to strengthen its position in the Gulf and advance towards an enhanced security role. However, internal, regional, and international dynamics must always be taken into account, and Turkey should stabilize its domestic politics, enhance its economic strength, and significantly increase its trade interaction with the Gulf states to compete with actors from outside the region and facilitate a potentially enhanced security role in the future.


Baykar CEO hopes massive Saudi deal paves path for Turkish defense firms in KSA,” Breaking Defense (global defense-focusednewswebsite), 10 August 2023. https://breakingdefense.com/2023/08/baykar-ceo-hopes-massive-saudi-deal-paves-path-for-turkish-defense-firms-in-ksa/

“Our partners ASELSAN and ROKETSAN, with whom we collaborate, have also entered agreements with NCMS based on their technological capabilities. Thanks to these agreements, hundreds of companies producing subsystems in the Turkish defense and aviation industry will expand their export portfolios through new collaborations in this field,” Bayraktar said…“…Joining forces with the Saudi defense industry will accelerate Baykar’s rate and capacity of production, which is crucial to meet the burgeoning demand for the Turkish unmanned aerial solutions,” Kasapoglu said…


Notes:

[i] For background see: Ali Bakir, “Turkey’s defense industry is on the rise. The GCC is one of its top buyers,” The Atlantic Council, 4 August 2023. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/turkey-defense-baykar-gcc-gulf/

[ii] For more on Baykar and Turkish drone exports, see: Karen Kaya, “Turkey as a Drone Superpower: A Case Study of a Mid-Size Power Driving the Operational Environment,” FMSO’s Foreign Perspective Brief, 28 March 2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/2023-03-28-turkey-as-a-drone-superpower-a-case-study-of-a-mid-size-power-driving-the-operational-environment-karen-kaya-update/

[iii] Over the past decade, Turkey’s military influence among Gulf countries was centered on its close defense and security relationship with Qatar. Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE were strained for much of the 2010s. They thawed in 2021 when the Qatar embargo ended and a broader regional rapprochement began.

[iv] Jeremy Binnie. “Local production agreements signed for Saudi Bayraktar Akinci UAVs,” Jane’s, 8 August 2023. https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/local-production-agreements-signed-for-saudi-bayraktar-akinci-uavs

[v] For more on the defense industry component of Saudi Vision 2030, see: Lucas Winter “Saudi Arabia and China in the Arabian Sea,” OE Watch,October 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195241; Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia and the UAE Streamline Military Industry,” OE Watch,January 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/307562; and Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia’s Domestic UAV Program Slow To Get Off the Ground,” OE Watch,01-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/403476

[vi] See: Lucas Winter, “UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” OE Watch,07-2022. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/oe-watch-vol-12-iss-07/


Image Information:

Image:  Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı UAV on display at Teknofest Aerospace and Technology Festival in 2019.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayraktar_Akıncı_SİHA_%28UAV%29.jpg
Attribution: CC 4.0


Iran’s Proposed Maritime Security Alliance Draws Mixed Reviews

North Arabian Sea (Jan. 19, 2021)


“Iran’s actual and real success in forming [the new naval alliance] is an imposition of a new deterrence theory and a great challenge to the United States of America and its hegemony in the region, which it is slowly losing.”


In early June 2023, Iran’s navy commander suggested that Tehran was on the verge of establishing a regional naval security alliance that would include India, Pakistan, and several Arab Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia.[i] Reactions in Arabic-language media were mixed. Outlets affiliated with or supportive of China, Iran, and Russia portrayed the announcement as a highly consequential move that would further erode, if not fully negate, U.S. regional influence. However, the announcement was essentially ignored by mainstream Arabic-language Gulf media outlets from the countries purported to form the alliance’s backbone, most notably Saudi Arabia.

The first accompanying source, an excerpt from Russia’s Sputnik Arabic, characterizes the proposed alliance as a one-time “fantasy” that has become an imminent reality made possible by the U.S. failure to provide regional maritime security. The second accompanying source, from a report in China’s CGTN Arabic, argues that the China-brokered Saudi-Iran détente has created favorable conditions for regional security cooperation between Iran and the Arab Gulf states.[ii] The third accompanying source, an opinion piece in the pro-Iranian Lebanese media outlet al-Mayadeen, describes how this new alliance constitutes Iran’s “imposition of a new deterrence theory and a great challenge to the United States of America and its hegemony in the region,” as well as “a practical reality, a fatal blow to the strategic interests of Israel.” Although not a tacit rejection of the idea, other Gulf media outlets have been less enthusiastic and officials from the Arab states involved have not commented. Prominent Saudi media outlets, such as al-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Riyadh, have also kept quiet. By contrast, Saudi media outlets have vocally expressed new alignment with Iran on regional matters, most notably Syrian normalization since Saudi Arabia’s May 2023 détente with Iran. Iran’s inclusion in the Russo-Chinese “Maritime Security Belt” exercises in the Indian Ocean, most recently in March 2023, indicate the possibility of a Russo-Chinese role in encouraging a regional naval coalition that marginalizes the United States’ role. Chinese interest in and encouragement of this Iranian-led security mechanism, if genuine, suggests that Saudi leadership might take the idea more seriously than the lack of media coverage would otherwise suggest.


Sources:

“تحالف بحري بين إيران والخليج… لماذا أصبح من الضروري أن تحافظ دول المنطقة على أمنها بنفسها؟

(Naval alliance between Iran and the Gulf… Why did it become necessary for regional countries to guarantee their own security?),” Sputnik Arabic (Russian Arabic-language media outlet), 5 June 2023. https://sputnikarabic.ae/20230605/تحالف-بحري-بين-إيران-والخليج-لماذا-أصبح-من-الضروري-أن-تحافظ-دول-المنطقة-على-أمنها-بنفسها-1077771292.html

A few weeks ago, talk of an alliance including Iran and the Gulf countries together was a fantasy, but it has become a reality with the announcement of the imminent formation of a naval alliance that includes the countries of the region… Hassan Ibrahim Al-Nuaimi, an Emirati political analyst, considered that the countries of the region suffered from maritime threats, while foreign countries failed to secure the seas in the region. Thus, it became clear to the Arab Gulf states that these foreign countries only pursue their own agendas, and do not care about the interests of other countries.


“إيران تخطط لتشكيل تحالف بحري وسط تحسين العلاقات في الشرق الأوسط

(Iran plans naval alliance amidst improving relations in Middle East),” CGTN Arabic (Chinese Arabic-language media outlet), 6 June 2023. https://arabic.cgtn.com/news/2023-06-06/1666049661388214273/index.html

Iran’s proposal for a security alliance or coordination mechanism with Gulf countries is completely natural. Iran had the idea, and it is not a new one, but conditions were not adequate in the past…


” تحالف دولي.. إيران في مواجهة هيمنة أميركا على المنطقة

(International alliance… Iran confronting American regional hegemony),” al-Mayadeen (pro-Iran Lebanese media outlet), 12 June 2023. https://www.almayadeen.net/articles/تحالف-دولي-إيران-في-مواجهة-هيمنة-أميركا-على-المنطقة

Iran’s actual and real success in forming it is an imposition of a new deterrence theory and a great challenge to the United States of America and its hegemony in the region, which it is slowly losing… The international naval alliance is a joint security project for Iran and the Gulf states, the realization of which constitutes a practical reality, a fatal blow to the strategic interests of “Israel” in that region…


Notes:

[i] In addition to Pakistan and India, Iran’s proposed alliance is to include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iraq.

[ii] The CGTN video report cites Dr. Niu Xinchun, the Director of Middle East Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR). http://www.cicir.ac.cn/NEW/en-us/Institution.html?subtype=Middle%20East&&type=region


Image Information:

Image:  North Arabian Sea (Jan. 19, 2021)
Source: Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jose Madrigal, https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6493578/nimitz-transits-arabian-sea  
Attribution: Public Domain


India’s Security Engagement With Egypt and Saudi Arabia Evolving

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016)


“The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns…” 


India’s military influence activities continue to increase in key Arab countries Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[i] In May 2023, the commanders of the Indian and Egyptian armies met in Cairo to discuss deepening bilateral military cooperation, as reported in the first accompanying excerpt, from the Twitter account of the Indian Embassy in Cairo. The meeting follows up on earlier high-level engagements discussing defense cooperation, most notably Egyptian President Sisi’s January 2023 visit to India. Their armies conducted a bilateral exercise in Egypt in January, and earlier in May, the Indian and Egyptian air forces also conducted joint training, as mentioned in the second accompanying excerpt from the Egyptian defense ministry website. Egypt is seen as a possible gateway for Indian weapons sales to Africawith rumors of looming weapons sales and possible joint production agreements between the two countries.

The Indian military has also increasingly engaged with their Saudi counterparts. Indian and Saudi naval forces held a training exercise in the Persian Gulf in May, concurrent with a 3-week training program for around 50 Saudi naval personnel in India. India-Saudi military ties “are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” according to an Indian defense expert cited in the excerpt from the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. The two countries’ heads of state spoke in June on deepening relations in several areas, including defense.[ii] Saudi Arabia remains among the top global arms importers and an attractive potential customer for the Indian weapons industry. Saudi media is enamored of the narrative of multipolarity but rarely considers India as part of the great power competition discussion. India’s strategic importance is evaluated through the lens of its membership in non-Western multilateral organizations such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt recently became SCO dialogue partners and have moved toward greater involvement in BRICS institutions.[iii] India’s growing security involvement in the Arab world bears watching even though it remains overshadowed by the specter of growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.


Sources:

@indembcairo. Twitter, 15 May 2023. https://twitter.com/indembcairo/status/1658039664345858049 

Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande proceeded on a three-day visit to Egypt. The visit will provide an opportunity to enhance bilateral #DefenceCooperation and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.


“The Egyptian And The Indian Air Forces Carry Out A Joint Air Training At An Egyptian Air Base,” Egyptian Ministry of Defense Website, 8 March 2023. https://www.mod.gov.eg/ModWebSite/NewsDetails.aspx?id=42648

Within the framework of supporting and strengthening military cooperation relations with friendly and brotherly countries, the Egyptian and Indian Air Forces carried out a joint air exercise at an Egyptian air base. The training included implementation of a number of joint drills, including training on aerial refueling, which contributes to the exchange of training experiences between the elements participating from both sides


“Indian navy chief welcomes Saudi cadets during first joint training,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 2 June 2023. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2314776/saudi-arabia  

Muddassir Quamar, a Middle East expert and associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said there have also been efforts to develop cooperation in nonconventional defense areas, as well as the defense industry. “The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” he told Arab News.


Notes:

[i] For background see: “India-Egypt Ties: Sharply Rising Graph of Engagement,” Bharatshakti (Indian defense publication), 12 December 2022. https://bharatshakti.in/india-egypt-ties-sharply-rising-graph-of-engagement/ and “How India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Ties Are Deepening, And Will Help The Defence Industry,” ABP News (Indian news network), 28 May 2023. https://news.abplive.com/india-at-2047/how-india-saudi-arabia-strategic-ties-are-deepening-and-will-help-the-defence-industry-1605245

[ii] “PM Modi, Saudi Crown Prince review ties with focus on connectivity and defence,” Hindustan Times (Indian daily), 9 June 2023. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pm-saudi-crown-prince-review-ties-with-focus-on-connectivity-and-defence-101686249683889.html

[iii] Egypt recently became an official member of the New Development Bank, sometimes referred to as the “BRICS bank,” and Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks to join. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also both expressed interest in BRICS membership and are considered potential candidates were the group to expand.


Image Information:

Image:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016) 
Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_meeting_Mohammad_bin_Salman,_Deputy_Crown_Prince_of_Saudi_Arabia.jpg    
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 


UAE Seeking Greater Cooperation With Egyptian Defense Sector

H.E. Mr. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt emplanes for Egypt (State Visit of President of Egypt to India (January 24-26, 2023)

H.E. Mr. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt emplanes for Egypt (State Visit of President of Egypt to India (January 24-26, 2023).


…The United Arab Emirates has expressed great interest in investing in Egypt’s defense industry…”


In April 2023, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed made a state visit to Egypt. Although the visit took place in the shadow of conflict in Sudan, where Egypt and the UAE support opposing factions, it was primarily focused on expanding economic cooperation in various sectors, according to the first accompanying excerpt from the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. One sector where deeper cooperation would be highly consequential is military production. On paper, the Egyptian and Emirati defense industries are complementary. Egypt has a relatively strong industrial base and a history of military production but lacks funding and investment in new technologies.[i] The UAE, meanwhile, has invested heavily in new military technologies but lacks a large national industrial base or history of military production. According to the second accompanying article, from the Arabic-language Defense Arabia website, “the United Arab Emirates has expressed great interest in investing in Egypt’s defense.” The article highlights a Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation signed at the IDEX defense expo in February 2023 between Egypt’s Defense Ministry and the UAE’s Tawazun Council, a key Emirati defense industry government entity. In 2020, the Egyptian government launched an initiative to bolster weapons export production, with a view to making inroads in the African market and helping its moribund economy rebound.[ii] The initiative remains stalled in part due to financial constraints, but it could receive an important boost from Gulf countries seeking regional influence via economic investments.[iii] While Emirati entities have shown interest in investing in Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, they have also grown increasingly frustrated by the Egyptian government’s lack of transparency and market reforms. Thus, potential Emirati investment in Egypt’s defense sector remains a theoretical win-win scenario that is unlikely to move forward unless the Egyptian government is willing to accept at least some of its creditors’ conditions.


Sources:

“هل تعزز زيارة محمد بن زايد القاهرة الاستثمارات الإماراتية في مصر؟

Will Mohamed bin Zayed’s visit to Cairo strengthen Emirati investments in Egypt?” al-Sharq al-Awsat (influential Saudi daily), 13 April 2023. https://tinyurl.com/2p8nuwpm

Egyptian economist Dr. Rashad Abdo told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Emirati president’s visit to Cairo and his talks with the Egyptian president are economic talks par excellence. Whatever the political files for discussion, the context in which the visit comes confirms that economic issues will prevail.” According to Abdo, “the talks contribute to strengthening and increasing Emirati investments in Egypt in various sectors, and it is likely that the meeting focused on consolidating economic cooperation mechanisms and discussing specific Egyptian proposals for investment opportunities.”

“الإمارات تستثمر في الصناعات العسكرية المصرية.. ماذا وراء تعزيز التعاون الدفاعي بين البلدين؟

The UAE is investing in Egyptian military industries.. What is behind the strengthening of defense cooperation between the two countries?” Defense Arabia (military news website), 29 April 2023. https://tinyurl.com/47yzpj82

The United Arab Emirates has expressed great interest in investing in Egypt’s defense industry, seeking to take advantage of the country’s strategic location and its growing defense sector…In an important step towards enhancing defense cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, in February 2023 at IDEX the Tawazun Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Egyptian Ministry of Defense. The memorandum aims to enhance cooperation in the defense and security industries and to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.


Notes:

[i] “Mapping the Formal Military Economy Part 1: A ‘Citadel’ of Egyptian Industry,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 18 November 2019. https://carnegie-mec.org/2019/11/18/mapping-formal-military-economy-part-1-citadel-of-egyptian-industry-pub-80334

[ii] “Egypt boosts local weapons production,” al-Monitor, 2 March 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/03/egypt-plan-local-weapons-industry-africa-export-army.html

[iii] Since 2013, Gulf countries—primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE—have provided the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi with as much as $100 billion in assistance, often with no strings attached; it is believed, however, that they are no longer willing to do so without getting guaranteed returns on their capital. See: “Gulf Investment in Egypt: A Balance of Mutual Need,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 8 May 2023. https://carnegie-mec.org/2023/05/08/gulf-investment-in-egypt-balance-of-mutual-need-pub-89641


Image Information:

Image:  H.E. Mr. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt emplanes for Egypt (State Visit of President of Egypt to India (January 24-26, 2023)
Source: India Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/meaindia/52651633276  
Attribution: CC 2.0

Key Arab Countries Join Chinese-Led Regional Body as Dialogue Partners

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).


“… The group’s expansion, however, should not be interpreted as meant to pose a challenge to the West, but rather as a means to provide an alternative…”


A growing number of Arab countries are joining the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as “dialogue partners.” The SCO was established in the early 2000s as a mechanism for deepening political, economic, and security cooperation between countries of Central and South Asia. It has eight member nations (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and over a dozen “observer” and “dialogue partner” nations, which may send delegates to SCO meetings and negotiate with the bloc on particular issues but do not have voting rights or official sway within the organization.

In the past year, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all been officially granted “dialogue partner” status, with Bahrain expected to follow suit. With this, roughly two-thirds of countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility have joined the SCO in some capacity.[i] While these developments bear watching, SCO partnership is—at least for now—not necessarily at odds with existing security commitments and arrangements.[ii] Instead, engagement with the SCO is seen as part of a strategic diversification approach being pursued by Arab countries in response to emerging multipolarity. Arabic-language media largely sees these moves through an economic lens and as part of what the first accompanying excerpt, published in the Qatari-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, considers China’s “efforts to consolidate a new multipolar world economic order.” Arab countries’ interest in the SCO, however, should not be dismissed as a purely economic phenomenon bereft of potential strategic implications. According to a former Egyptian diplomat cited in the second accompanying article, published last September in the prominent Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, Russia will seek to use the SCO “as an additional point in its confrontations with the West.” Russian attempts to use the SCO for strategic leverage against NATO would likely cause friction within the organization, clashing not only with China’s more regional and economic focus but also with the strategic interests of other SCO members. Nonetheless, growing Russo-Chinese geostrategic alignment may eventually enable the SCO’s orientation to gradually shift toward global geopolitics, particularly if its membership begins extending beyond Central and South Asia. Especially noteworthy in this regard is Iran’s interest in full SCO membership (it is currently an observer country). This interest, combined with the recent China-mediated Saudi-Iranian détente, makes the SCO a potential venue through which Iran may seek to compete with the United States. Last April, Iran was for the first time invited to participate in the SCO defense ministers’ meeting in New Delhi. As reported in the third accompanying excerpt, from the pro-Iranian Lebanese media outlet al-Mayadeen, Iran’s Defense Minister called for the establishing of a “Shanghai Maritime Security Belt” and more broadly using the SCO to promote a “balance of power.” Iranian ambitions notwithstanding, the SCO remains an “alternative” rather than a “challenge” to the West, as articulated by an Indian journalist cited in the fourth accompanying excerpt, from the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. Still, in a competitive world, today’s alternatives may become tomorrow’s challenges. Present Arab involvement in the SCO remains limited and largely economic in nature, but the potential for this involvement to morph in a way that that erodes U.S.-Arab security partnerships, while not imminent, is worthy of consideration.


Sources:

“منظمة شنغهاي.. ترسيخ الصين لاقتصاد التعددية القطبية يتمدّد عربياً

(Shanghai Organization.. China’s consolidation of the multipolar economy is expanding in the Arab world),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 16 April 2023. https://tinyurl.com/muamystt

China is seeking to attract a larger number of economically active countries to membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as part of its efforts to consolidate a new multipolar world economic order.

“ماذا يعني انضمام 5 دول عربية إلى منظمة «شنغهاي»؟

(What does the accession of 5 Arab countries to the ‘Shanghai Organization’ mean?).” al-Sharq al-Awsat (influential Saudi daily), 17 September 2022. https://tinyurl.com/bdf9f2v8


Ambassador Raouf Saad, the former Egyptian assistant foreign minister and former Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, acknowledged that Russia will work to exploit the matter as an additional point in its confrontations with the West. However, he stressed the constants of Egyptian foreign policy, which refuses to “enter into alliances directed at the expense of its interests.”

“وزير الدفاع الإيراني: يجب تفعيل حزام الأمن البحري لمنظمة “شنغهاي

(Iranian Defense Minister: The ‘Shanghai Organization’ maritime security belt must be activated,)” al-Mayadeen (pro-Iran Lebanese media outlet), 29 April 2023. https://tinyurl.com/35dfp45z

Today, Saturday, the Iranian Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, proposed adopting the “Shanghai Maritime Security Belt” mechanism with the aim of maintaining the security of communication lines and collectively guaranteeing global trade with the participation of the armed forces of member states…

During his remarks at the meeting of defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in New Delhi, India, Ashtiani said that the achievements of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “should promote global multilateralism and balance of power.”

“Middle Eastern participation grows in China-led security bloc as new countries join,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 5 May 2023. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2298341/world
“It is a question of moving the weight or the center of gravity from the Western world — the US and EU combined — to the Eastern world, the place where the population of the world actually now exists overwhelmingly, the place where the fastest-growing economies are also present,” Suhashini Haidar, diplomatic editor at the English-language daily the Hindu, told Arab News. The group’s expansion, however, should not be interpreted as meant to pose a challenge to the West, but rather as a means to provide an alternative, she said.


Notes:

[i] Of the 21 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, only eight (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Yemen) do not have any status in the SCO. However, Iraq, Israel, and Syria have all applied for dialogue partner status, while Turkmenistan has attended SCO summits as a guest attendee. That leaves Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, and Yemen as the only countries with no relationship to the SCO.

[ii] SCO partnership alone means little in terms of defense commitments: Turkey, a NATO member, is an SCO dialogue partner.  Full membership in the SCO should also not be equated to membership in a defense alliance, such as NATO, given that both India and Pakistan are full members. Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have an adversarial relationship with one another, are both dialogue partners.


Image Information:

Image: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).
Source: N509FZ, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shanghai_Cooperation_Organization_Secretariat_%2820220909162501%29.jpg
Attribution: CC 4.0

South Korea Bolsters Defense Collaboration in the Arabian Peninsula

K239 Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).


“…The two sides agreed to further develop the bilateral relationship to a ‘future-oriented strategic partnership’…”


South Korea is showing itself to be a potentially important player in the security landscape of the Arabian Peninsula thanks to deepening defense cooperation with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The most tangible Korean inroads in this regard have come from arms sales. In 2021, the UAE became the first publicly known export destination for the South Korean-produced K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery system[GRLCUT(1] . Similarly, in 2022, the UAE became the first export destination for the South Korean-produced KM-SAM (Cheongung II) air defense system[GRLCUT(2] . For its part, in April 2023, Saudi Arabia revealed its own previously undisclosed K239s, deployed along its border with Yemen.  The revelation came in a video posted on Twitter by the Saudi defense ministry. This disclosure follows a visit in March 2023 of Saudi Arabia’s defense minister to South Korea. As noted in the first accompanying excerpt, from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, the trip may have been partly related to Saudi interest in acquiring KM-SAM systems. South Korea appears poised to become an important actor in the lucrative Gulf states arms market.

Saudi Arabia aspires to develop a robust indigenous defense industry, in line with the country’s Vision 2030 strategic development plan. China has emerged as an important partner in these efforts; South Korea, it seems, is well positioned to follow suit.[i] Beyond merely arms sales, South Korean defense companies have shown a willingness to establish joint production ventures with countries in the Middle East.[ii] In 2019, leading Saudi and South Korean defense entities signed a memorandum to form a Riyadh-based joint venture company focused on manufacturing and selling ammunition inside Saudi Arabia, to be called SAMI-Hanwha Munitions Systems. As reported in the second excerpted article, from the South Korean English-language daily Korea JoongAng Daily, the same entities inked a contract worth nearly $1 billion involving undisclosed “support for Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities and supply chain services” at the 2022 Saudi World Defense Show. 


Sources:

“S. Korean, Saudi defense chiefs agree on regular ministerial dialogue on defense cooperation,” Yonhap News Agency (South Korea news agency), 7 March 2023. https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230307010900325

The defense chiefs of South Korea and Saudi Arabia agreed Tuesday to install a regular ministerial-level dialogue on arms industry cooperation during their talks in Seoul, the defense ministry here said… [South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup] expressed expectations that ongoing negotiations on South Korea’s defense exports to Saudi Arabia will be concluded successfully, while explaining progress that the country’s arms industry has made. The ministry did not elaborate on the negotiations. Saudi Arabia is known to be considering the introduction of the South Korean-made Cheongung II midrange surface-to-air missile system.

“Time is ripe for Korea to sell Saudi Arabia more weapons,” Korea JoongAng Daily (South Korean English-language daily), 16 November 2022. https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2022/11/16/national/defense/Korea-Saudi-Arabia-South-Korea/20221116183935017.html  

Hanwha’s contract, worth 3 billion riyals, entails company support for Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities and supply chain services. Both sides declined to specify which weapons would be supported under the agreement, citing a confidentiality clause. 


Notes:

[i] For more on Chinese inroads in Gulf country defense industries, see: Lucas Winter, “Chinese-Arab Summit Signals Growing Saudi-Chinese Defense Alignment,” OE Watch, 2-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436350

[ii] Last year, South Korea and Egypt signed a sale and co-production deal for the Korean K-9 howitzer. For more on the deal, see: “Egypt, South Korea sign deals for joint manufacturing of K-9 howitzers.” al-Ahram (Egyptian daily), 26 February 2022. https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/1237/461786/Egypt/Defence/Egypt,-South-Korea-sign-deals-for-joint-manufactur.aspx


Image Information:

Image:  K239 Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS)
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:K239_Chunmoo.jpg
Attribution: CC 3.0

Egypt and India Deepen Security Cooperation

A former Egyptian Helwan HA-300 aircraft is displayed in the Flugwerft Schleißheim

A former Egyptian Helwan HA-300 aircraft is displayed in the Flugwerft Schleißheim.


…The two sides agreed to enhance and deepen defense cooperation in all fields, especially through exchanging technological expertise in defense industries, visiting military exercises, and exchanging best practices…”


Egypt and India have recently accelerated security cooperation. In 2021, the two militaries held naval, air force, and tactical counterterrorism training exercises, and in September 2022, India’s defense minister visited Egypt to sign a bilateral defense cooperation agreement. In January 2023, President Sisi of Egypt traveled to India as the guest of honor for Republic Day celebrations, where he and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Modi, signed an agreement to elevate bilateral relations to the level of “strategic partnership.” According to the first accompanying excerpt from the final joint statement of that event, published by the Egyptian government’s State Information Service, the Egyptian-Indian strategic partnership will include an expansion of bilateral military exercises, efforts to bolster defense co-production, and increased exchanges of technological expertise.

Indeed, the potential for their bilateral collaboration is clear, as Egypt’s interest in strengthening its domestic defense industry aligns neatly with India’s interest in growing its foreign military sales and partnerships. One platform allegedly being discussed in this context is India’s Tejas Mk1A light combat aircraft. According to the second accompanying excerpt from the Indian English-language daily Hindustan Times, in February 2023, the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited revealed that talks are ongoing for Egypt to buy 20 aircraft. He added: “Egypt has also shown interest in creating a local aerospace ecosystem. We will help facilitate that.” Media reports from early 2021 also point to Egyptian interest in the BrahMos[GRLCUT(1] , a cruise missile developed by India and Russia, and in the Indian-manufactured Akash[GRLCUT(2]  medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile system.[i] Both Egypt and India have significant Soviet and Russian equipment in their arsenals, and maintenance and repair of these systems are considered a likely area of collaboration, particularly in light of Russia’s expected Ukraine-related difficulties in meeting the needs of its defense export clients. The deepening Indian-Egyptian defense partnership has generated several commentaries linking recent events to developments in the 1960s, when the future of Indian-Egyptian defense cooperation seemed bright. At the time, leaders in Egypt and India saw their countries playing a critical geopolitical balancing role as founding leaders of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement. Perhaps not surprisingly, the official statement at the end of Sisi’s January 2023 visit to India referred to both countries’ commitment to, among others, “the founding values of the Non-Aligned Movement.” As illustrated by the third accompanying excerpt from the Indian English-language news website The Print, this historical period is instructive as Egypt and India look to ramp up bilateral defense collaboration in an increasingly competitive geopolitical context. Specifically, the article looks at some of the lessons for the present from the short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to co-produce a light fighter jet—the Helwan HA-300—in the 1960s.


Sources:

زيارة الرئيس السيسي إلى جمهورية الهند

(President Sisi’s visit to the Republic of India),” Egypt State Information Service (National Public Information Agency), 24 January 2023. https://tinyurl.com/bderkpah

The two countries affirmed their commitment to… the founding values ​​of the Non-Aligned Movement, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries…

The two leaders welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for defense cooperation during the visit of Mr. Rajnath Singh, Indian Defense Minister, to Egypt in September 2022, and expressed their appreciation for the bilateral military cooperation reaching a new level. The two sides agreed to enhance and deepen defense cooperation in all fields, especially through exchanging technological expertise in defense industries, visiting military exercises, and exchanging best practices. They also stressed the need for co-production in the defense sector and discussed specific proposals within the framework of the Joint Defense Committee


“India in talks with Argentina, Egypt for possible Tejas sale,” The Hindustan Times (Indian English-language daily), 14 February 2023. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-in-talks-with-argentina-egypt-for-possible-tejas-sale-101676399079273.html

India is in talks with Egypt and Argentina for a possible sale of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) to their air forces as the country sharpens its focus on getting a toehold in foreign markets and boosting defence exports, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman CB Ananthakrishnan said at the Aero India 2023 air show on Tuesday. Egypt has projected a requirement for 20 aircraft, while Argentina needs 15 new fighters, he said. “Egypt has also shown interest in creating a local aerospace ecosystem. We will help facilitate that.”


“With Rajnath Singh in Cairo, India-Egypt pick up Nehru-Nasser thread left off in the ’60s,” The Point (Indian English-language news website), 19 September 2022. https://theprint.in/past-forward/with-rajnath-singh-in-cairo-india-egypt-pick-up-nehru-nasser-thread-left-off-in-the-60s/1133839/ Singh’s talks with his Egyptian counterpart, General Mohamed Zaki, will explore new initiatives to intensify military-to-military engagements and deepen cooperation between the defence industries of the two countries. This, after decades of sketchy contact despite India-Egypt’s close ties in the Nehru-Nasser heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement… Almost six decades on, though, the strategic imperatives that drove the collaboration still exist: Heavily dependent on imports, both countries know that true military modernisation will need the creation of a defence-industrial base at home.


Notes:

[i] See: “Egypt considers purchase of Indian missile system,” al-Monitor (Middle East-focused news and analysis website), 2 February 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/02/egypt-india-russia-made-brahmos-missile-system-weapons.html


Image Information:

Image: A former Egyptian Helwan HA-300 aircraft is displayed in the Flugwerft Schleißheim
Source: Photo by High Contrast, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Helwan_HA-300,_Flugwerft_Schleißheim.jpg
Attribution: CC 3.0

Iran Capitalizing on Post-Earthquake Conditions To Deepen Influence in Syria

Aleppo in the war (2016).

Aleppo in the war (2016).


… Local media sources also indicated that the excavation machinery of the Iranian IRGC-affiliated ‘Khatam al-Anbiya’ company began demolishing a number of residential buildings in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, under the pretext that they were cracked as a result of the earthquake…”


On 6 February, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near the Syria-Turkish border, damaging and destroying countless structures in surrounding areas and killing more than 50,000 people. The Syrian province of Aleppo was especially hard hit, with damages estimated as high as $3.2 billion, mostly in the eponymous provincial capital.[i]  Iran and its allied Iraqi factions from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have provided much publicized assistance to parts of Aleppo, in ways that are likely to deepen their influence among the local population.  The accompanying excerpt, from the Syrian opposition news website Enab Baladi, highlights a visit to Aleppo by Ismail Qaani, Qasim Soleimani’s successor as head of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.  Qaani was the first foreign official to visit Syria after the earthquake, and his visit to Aleppo preceded that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by two days. When al-Assad finally went to Aleppo, he met briefly with Abdel Aziz al-Muhammadawi (a.k.a. Abu Fadak), the head of PMF, who was there to oversee PMF post-earthquake assistance in Aleppo.  Like his predecessor, who was killed in the same strike that killed Soleimani, al-Muhammadawi is considered a close Quds Force ally.  According to the Enab Baladi report, al-Assad thanked al-Muhammadawi and his organization for their humanitarian assistance.  Iranian-backed entities are now seeking government permits to rebuild parts of the city, as they have across the war-ravaged suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus in recent years.[ii]  The second accompanying excerpt, from the Qatari-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, explains how the IRGC-linked construction company Khatam al-Anbiya had demolished some buildings in eastern Aleppo and sought to lay the foundations for a future bastion of Iranian support in the area.

Other media reports have speculated that Iran also has used post-earthquake humanitarian aid as a cover to transfer weapons to Syria. The Israeli government was quick to warn of this possibility, and in early March, it bombed Aleppo airport, targeting purported Iranian drones being stored there.  As noted in the accompanying article, from the Saudi-aligned daily Independent Arabia, there are conflicting reports about what exactly was targeted, with some sources claiming it was drones transferred from a nearby, recently rehabilitated airbase that is now under Russian control (al-Jarrah), and others claiming it involved weapons brought in by land and air under the cover of humanitarian assistance.  Regardless, the strikes led to a temporary halt in operations at Aleppo’s airport, forcing a diversion of humanitarian aid flights and prompting UN and government officials to warn of dire humanitarian consequences.[iii]


Sources:

“الحشد الشعبي” يضغط على النظام في حلب بشقق سكنية لمتضرري الزلزال

(PMF pressures the regime in Aleppo via apartment buildings for earthquake victims,)” Enab Baladi (Syrian opposition news website), 28 February 2023. https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/631353

On February 8, Ismail Qaani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, visited Aleppo where he inspected earthquake victims’ conditions and supervised the work of Iranian rescuers at rubble-clearing sites, according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency. He was the first foreign official to arrive in Syria after the earthquake, and appeared in Aleppo two days before the head of the regime arrived in the city…

The researcher on Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi, explained that Iranian activity in Syria falls within two tracks, political and military…On the military level, the cargo planes that land in Aleppo and Damascus may be loaded with precision-strike missile technology and drones, although they were not bombed by Israel… this is a major military track that can be exploited under the guise of aid.


“إيران تعزز وجودها في حلب بذريعة مساعدة منكوبي الزلزال

(Iran strengthens its presence in Aleppo on the pretext of helping earthquake victims),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 4 March 2023. https://tinyurl.com/phm3y4tk

Local media sources also indicated that the excavation machinery of the Iranian IRGC-affiliated “Khatam al-Anbiya” company began demolishing a number of residential buildings in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, under the pretext that they were cracked as a result of the earthquake… the Reconstruction Office of the Khatam al-Anbiya Company offered to buy homes as-is from owners of earthquake-damaged or even undamaged homes in these eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo.


“ما السياق الإقليمي لضربات إسرائيل ضد إيران في سوريا؟

(What is the regional context for Israel’s strikes against Iran in Syria?)” Independent Arabia (Saudi-aligned daily), 10 March 2023. https://tinyurl.com/2s364yp8
Opposition media outlets reported that the bombing of Aleppo airport was due to the existence of a weapons and missile depot. The Israeli “Alma” Research Center (close to intelligence) reported that some of them had arrived by land through the Al-Qaim crossing with Iraq, in trucks transporting weapons with humanitarian aid for those affected by the earthquake that hit northern Syria and Turkey on 6 February, while some of these weapons also arrived in a plane to the airport. In another version, the opposition media outlet Orient Net indicated that the weapons were transferred from al-Jarrah Military Airport in Aleppo. The Russian army is now deployed there and allegedly asked the Iranians to transfer their equipment away from the base.


Notes:

[i] “Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation (GRADE) Report,” World Bank, 20 February 2023. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099084502282328299/pdf/P1721710045bd103f089f109cfbcb15aa2b.pdf

[ii] For more see: Lucas Winter, “Iran Cements its Presence in Syria,” OE Watch, 05-2019.  

[iii] According to the UN, the “closure could have severe humanitarian implications for people in Aleppo, one of the worst earthquake impacted governorates in Syria…We call on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities.” See: “United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih statement on the Aleppo International Airport strikes,” 8 March 2023. https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/united-nations-resident-coordinator-and-humanitarian-coordinator-ad-interim-syria-el-mostafa-benlamlih-statement-aleppo-international-airport-strikes


Image Information:

Image:  Aleppo in the war (2016)
Source: Louai Barakat, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aleppo_in_the_war_2.jpg  
Attribution: CC 4.0

New Milestone in China’s Support for Egypt’s Space Program

Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt at Night (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/28/2010).

Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt at Night (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/28/2010).


We are achieving one of the main goals of Egypt, which is the localization of the satellite industry and technology … through this cooperation with China…”


Egypt’s domestic space program is slowly taking off, thanks in part to a modest Chinese investment that is likely to pay dividends for years to come.[i] The latest milestone in Sino-Egyptian space collaboration came in late February and early March 2023, when China launched into orbit two Egyptian-assembled, remote sensing, low-earth orbit satellites, Horus-1 and Horus-2. As remote sensing tools, the Horus satellites will have various uses for the Egyptian government, including monitoring the vast desert stretches that make up approximately 95 percent of the country’s surface. In space, they join two other Egyptian-owned satellites that were launched in 2019: EgyptSat A, a Russian-made earth-observation satellite, and Tiba 1 (Thebes 1), a French-made military communications satellite.[ii]

The accompanying excerpt from Egyptian news website El Watan cites the head of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), who explained on a popular morning TV show that cooperation with China had put Egypt on the road toward achieving one of its key goals in space, namely the “localization of the satellite industry and technology.” The Horus satellites were made at an assembly, integration, and testing center built with Chinese grant money. Egypt hopes to eventually have a satellite launch site and a series of control stations for indigenously produced satellites.[iii] The EgSA, which was established in 2019, has collaborative agreements with the space agencies of several countries; however, Chinese financing and know-how may be playing an outsized role in its early development. Chinese support for Egypt’s space program dovetails with investments in other information and communications technology sectors that could eventually lead to deepening bilateral cooperation on military satellite and communications technology. Last February, at the IDEX 2023 arms fair in Abu Dhabi, Egypt’s Arab Organization for Industrialization signed a deal with the China Aerospace Construction Group Company to “localize manufacturing technology in several defense industries fields, including co-producing a 3D radar to detect and track UAVs.”


Source:

“وكالة الفضاء المصرية: قمر «حورس 2» يستخدم في الكشف عن الثروات المعدنية

(Egyptian Space Agency: Horus-2 used to uncover mineral resources),” El Watan (Egyptian news website), 13 March 2023. https://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/6473128e The CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency continued: “We are achieving one of the main goals of Egypt, which is the localization of the satellite industry and technology. We are talking about a major goal in the national space program, one that was partially achieved through this cooperation with China”…


Notes:

[i] The Chinese investment consists of three cumulative grants: $23 million in 2016, $45 million in 2018, and $72 million in 2019. See: “Egypt Commences Implementation Phase Of China-funded MisrSat II Satellite And AIT Centre,” al-Monitor, 9 September 2019. https://africanews.space/egypt-commences-implementation-phase-of-china-funded-misrsat-ii-satellite-and-ait-centre/

[ii] Egypt’s space program is still in its infancy, but its near-term ambitions should not be dismissed. A 100-acre tract of land has been set aside for “Space City” in the yet unfinished New Administrative Capital, to the east of Cairo. Space City hosts the African Space Agency (AfSA), whose headquarters were formally opened in January 2023. See: “African Space Agency formally inaugurated,” Spacewatch Africa, 30 January 2023. https://spacewatch.global/2023/01/african-space-agency-formally-inaugurated/

[iii] “Egypt considers space program,” al-Monitor, 28 September 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/09/egypt-manufacture-satellite-launch-space-technology.html


Image Information:

Image:  Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt at Night (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/28/2010)
Source:  NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/12868402644       
Attribution: CC 2.0

Russia Using Media Organizations To Garner Support From “Islamic” Countries

President of the Republic of Tatarstan R.N. Minnikhanov.

President of the Republic of Tatarstan R.N. Minnikhanov.


“Cooperation with countries of the Islamic world in the media sphere is one of the key aspects of the Russian international policy.”


In December 2022, the Moscow headquarters of the Russian news channel RT hosted a conference titled “Russia and the Islamic World: Practical Steps in Media Cooperation.” The conference was co-sponsored by three entities: the Group of Strategic Vision Russia–Islamic World (GSV); Russia’s Sputnik International News Agency, which is highly influential in Arabic-speaking countries; and the Union of Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) News Agencies (UNA).[i] The conference featured representatives from Emirati and Turkish media and aimed to not only strengthen media coordination between Russia and OIC countries, but also to harmonize broader narratives in order to counter “misinformation.” The accompanying excerpt, published in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, highlights how “Moscow is shifting its focus to the Muslim world.” The Kremlin is looking to deepen policies promoting Russo-Muslim cooperation mechanisms—including the annual GSV-hosted Kazan Summit, one of the primary economic summits for Russia and OIC countries—which may provide Moscow with opportunities to skirt economic sanctions. The Kremlin also hopes that such efforts may promote the continued the neutrality of Muslim countries vis-à-vis Ukraine.[ii] As GSV chairman and Tatarstan Republic leader Rustam Minnikhanov expressed in his address to the December conference, excerpted alongside this commentary from the official GSV website, “cooperation with countries of the Islamic world in the media sphere is one of the key aspects of the Russian international policy.” Especially noteworthy is the role played by the GSV and similar organizations in strengthening Russo-Turkish cooperation, given the historical links between Turkey and Russian Muslim-majority areas such as Tatarstan, which some in Turkey consider part of the broader “Turkic World.” Thus, Russo-Muslim cooperation mechanisms such as the GSV are not only fulfilling an important and immediate geopolitical role, but they also push forward the type of historical, quasi-civilizational approach to geostrategic thinking that has steadily emerged in both Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey.[iii]


Sources:

Diana Galeeva. “Moscow shifts its focus to the Muslim world,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 17 December 2022. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2217786

In addition to the activities of the Russian Muftiates, which Russia has used as part of its religious soft power since the 2000s, are the Group of the Strategic Vision “Russia-Islamic world,” the para-diplomacies of the Russian Muslim regions (Chechnya, Dagestan, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan), and the activities of Muslim NGOs, such as the Association of Muslim Businessmen of the Russian Federation. Arguably, these policies have helped Russia to achieve economic, political and security advantages, including investments in its regions (Chechnya and Tatarstan) by the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The neutral position of GCC states over the Ukraine crisis also suggests the positive outcomes of these policies.

“International Conference ‘Developing Media Cooperation with the Islamic World – Russia’s Most Important Doctrine’,” Group of Strategic Vision Russia – Islamic World, 15 December 2022. https://russia-islworld.ru/en/novosti//international-conference-developing-media-cooperation-with-the-islamic-world-russias-most-important-doctrine-2022-12-15-29854/ Moreover, regular events held by the Group of Strategic Vision ‘Russia – Islamic World’ testify to the dynamics of fruitful international relations. Cooperation with countries of the Islamic world in the media sphere is one of the key aspects of the Russian international policy. Rustam Minnikhanov expressed his opinion that in the current difficult geopolitical situation the role of mass media was increasing and that the journalistic work of honest and verified mass media was crucial in combating false information and promoting traditional spiritual values.


Notes:

[i] The GSV is a Russian entity formed in 2006 to coordinate Moscow’s relations with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a multilateral forum of Muslim-majority countries in which Russia is an observer state.  In 2014, President Putin bolstered the GSV’s capabilities as a conduit for Russian influence in Muslim-majority countries by increasing its visibility and appointing Tatarstan Republic leader Rustam Minnikhanov as its head.

[ii] In January 2023, a presidential decree made the Kazan Summit an annual event. The summit’s website is available at: https://kazansummit.ru/en/

[iii] One of the most visible proponents of this type of thinking in Russia is Alexander Dugin, a Russian political philosopher whose geopolitical musings are thought to influence the strategic thinking of the Russian armed forces’ leadership. See: Lucas Winter, “The Appeal of ‘Duginism’ in the Middle East,” OE Watch. 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/427403


Image Information:

Image: President of the Republic of Tatarstan R.N. Minnikhanov
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Rustam_Minnikhanov_official_portrait.jpg
Attribution: CC BY 4.0