Russia understands the Middle East far better than America, says Anatol Lieven in Foreign Policy. In 2003 Vladimir Putin told The New York Times that the US invasion of Iraq would lead to chaos and the rise of Islamic extremism. In 2019 he told the FT that western attempts to create a democracy in Libya had led only to “conflict and inter-tribal discord”. On both counts he was right.
Why? Russia’s traumatic 20th-century history has given it “a profound sense of the fragility of states” and a “deep scepticism about projects of rapid revolutionary change”. The Soviets tried to mould countries around the world in their own image and it embroiled them “in a series of horribly expensive disasters”. One of those countries was Afghanistan – no wonder Russians correctly saw the western intervention there as “doomed to similar failure”. Moscow is also more comfortable doing business with “foul regimes” for what it considers the greater good: it propped up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, for example, out of a fear that his overthrow would lead to more global terrorism. The Biden administration has said it wants to work with Russia where national interests converge. America should first acknowledge, at least in private, the number of times that “Russia has been proved right”.