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Russia Steers Conservative, Steady Course in Middle East

Unlike the United States, Russia can walk away from the Middle East at any time.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference, part of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 1, 2013. Putin said on Monday that Russia would not hand former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden over to the United States but that if Snowden wants to stay in Russia he "must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners". REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY BUSINESS) - RTX118XS
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When the seemingly never-ending regime of Hosni Mubarak collapsed in early 2011, the lethargy of the Russian reaction surprised the world. Egypt's longtime president had never been a particular friend of Moscow's, instead remaining fully loyal to Washington. So, although there was no reason for tears at the Kremlin or Smolenskaya Square, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the current Russian establishment's general aversion to revolutions did not allow welcoming this triumph of popular will. At the time, both Western and Arab colleagues shrugged quizzically, wondering how the Russians could be so inflexible and reluctant to think about the future. The American interpretation expressed this sentiment more vividly: Russia, with its cautious attitude toward the democratic tide in the Middle East, was on the “wrong side of history.”

History is a tricky thing, however, constantly changing its “right side.” The democratically elected Islamist president was removed from power by the very same generals who, two and a half years before, had pushed aside a secular dictator. Although what took place is a classic military coup, everyone is trying to avoid those words, lest the “wrong side” be the result. And who knows what will come next. Try to guess which forces will be expressing the “people's will” six months from now.

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