The Maghreb Review and Maghreb Studies Association
The theme of our conference was:
RUSSIA AND THE MEDITERRANEAN:
DIPLOMACY, STRATEGIES AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSES
and it was held at Mansfield College, Oxford on 9 and 10 September 2019
Convened jointly by
THE MAGHREB REVIEW
The Maghreb Studies Association
The conference focussed upon Russia’s current and historical role in the Mediterranean region and its impact upon international relations. We attracted scholars with an interest in subjects as diverse as: Russia’s emerging Mediterranean ambitions during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars; the Crimean war in the 1850s; Russian diplomacy and Greek independence; Russian aspirations with regard to Constantinople/Istanbul and the Turkish Straits; Soviet involvement in the Spanish Civil War; Soviet post-1945 diplomacy regarding Italy, Libya and the international governance of Tangier; Soviet policy towards Egypt and Israel/Palestine; and Russia’s recent involvement with Turkey and in Syria and Iran.
The following papers were presented at the conference, and will be published in future issues of The Maghreb Review.
DU TRAITÉ DE KÜÇÜK KAYNARDJA AU TRAITÉ DE BERLIN. LA RUSSIE ET LA MÉDITERRANÉE (1774-1878)
PROF. ODILE MOREAU
Notre contribution propose une analyse de l’évolution des ambitions russes en Méditerranée à «l’âge de la Question d’Orient» ainsi que celle des réponses internationales qui lui sont apportées, du traité de Küçük Kaynardja au traité de Berlin de 1774 à 1878. Les dates de 1774 et de 1878 sont extrêmement importantes et symboliques pour les relations de la Russie en Méditerranée et particulièrement celles avec l’Empire ottoman. Il s’agit de deux défaites monumentales de l’Empire ottoman face à la Russie, marquant deux tournants dans le rapport des forces en Méditerranée. Enjeu primordial pour l’Empire ottoman au 19ième siècle, la question russe fut ponctuée par une récurrence d’affrontements entre les deux puissances. Le «moment guerre de Crimée» (1853-1856) s’avéra un tournant dans l’affrontement entre la Russie et l’Empire ottoman qui noua une alliance inédite avec la France et la Grande-Bretagne pour faire face à l’expansionnisme russe.
THE FORWARD VIEW: AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD AND THE RUSSO-TURKISH WAR OF 1877
DR. JOHN FISHER
As British Ambassador at Constantinople during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, Austen Henry Layard was the proverbial ‘man on the spot’: an emissary, on the fringes of empire, entrusted to defend Britain’s informal empire in the Near East. Layard’s forward thinking at that time, and some would say his Russophobia, was borne of travel, as well as some official duty, in the region and at the Foreign Office. He served what historians typically regard as a pusillanimous Foreign Secretary (the 15th Earl of Derby), but a more robust Prime Minister (Lord Beaconsfield), whose ideas about British strategic defence in the region, against an expanding Russian empire, he largely shared. Layard sketched his perception of Russia’s ambitions on a very broad front, stretching from the Balkan Peninsula to the frontiers of India. This paper explores Layard’s situation in Constantinople, his geo-political thinking, his views about Russian ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, and, most of all, his ideas about the duties of a statesman, relative to the defence of British interests in the Near East.
REASSESSING TITO: ‘BRITISH POLICY TOWARDS YUGOSLAVIA FOLLOWING THE CRUSHING OF THE PRAGUE SPRING’.
MR. ANDREW HARRISON
The crushing of the Prague Spring by Warsaw Pact forces in August 1968 once again brought Soviet intentions into sharp focus. Western leaders feared the invasion represented an attempt by Moscow to strengthen its grip on Eastern Europe and perhaps extend its influence. As such, the future independence of non-aligned but communist Yugoslavia and its ageing dictator Marshal Tito became a renewed concern. Tito, now 76-years-old, had been a vocal critic of Soviet actions in Czechoslovakia despite a gradual improvement in relations with Moscow following the death of Stalin 15 years earlier. Nevertheless, gaining substantial influence in Yugoslavia with its long coastline offering access to the Mediterranean Sea was an attractive prospect to the Russians. Taking British policy towards Yugoslavia as a case study, this paper will explore Western reactions to the perceived Soviet threat in the region, and attitudes to Mediterranean dictatorships more generally, in the context of Cold War diplomacy.
COLD WAR TWILIGHT: RONALD REAGAN, THE SOVIET UNION, AND THE MIDDLE EAST IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION
PROF. OSAMAH KHALIL
My paper examines the Reagan administration’s Cold War by proxy in the Middle East and the broader “Third World.” It argues that administration’s policies were driven by a mistaken perception of Soviet advances and American decline with intended and unintended consequences. These efforts, I demonstrate, drew on and expanded the containment efforts of previous administrations and relied on Vietnam-era military and intelligence officials and experts that applied their experiences to new regions and conflicts. The paper concludes these policies served to reify the unfounded fears of American policymakers and justified a global application of force that ignored or obscured local and regional realities.
BETWEEN CONTINUITY AND RUPTURE: THE MEDITERRANEAN IN TODAY’S RUSSIAN GEOPOLITICS
DR. IGOR DELANOË
The Mediterranean Region has witnessed the reinsertion of Russia since the beginning of the 2010s, after two decades of absence. This return has sparked skepticism and distrust among many regional (the EU, NATO, some Arab countries) and extra-regional (the US) stakeholders, whereas, from a historical perspective, it is Russia’s very absence from the Mediterranean strategic stage which was remarkable. From the late 18th century to 1991, the Russian Empire and afterward, the Soviet Union, maintained a presence in the Mediterranean, seeking to shape local geopolitical dynamics. Although it does not belong to Russia’s so-called “sphere of privileged interests”, the Mediterranean region appears in most of current Russian strategic documents. Where does the Mediterranean lie today in the geopolitics of Russia? This paper aims at discussing the dual role played by the Mare Nostrum in the Russian geopolitics, both as a platform for influence projection and as a corridor to access the “world ocean”. By examining both dimensions, this presentation will address the drivers of Moscow’s return on the Mediterranean stage during the past decade: economy, security, politics and culture
‘STRATEGIC SURPRISES’ IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
PROF. ABDELWAHAD HECHICHE
Former British Ambassador to the UN, David Hannay, wrote: “By the summer of 1990…most of the developments and decisions which came to be known as ending the Cold War had already occurred…the trends were irreversible...How was the world going to cope with future threats to international peace and security?” In 2017, Andrei Gratchev wondered whether today’s strange cold war may help us “not to fall into the trap of a remake which would take the shape of a Cold War II with the risk to eventually turn into WWIII.” This paper will try to identify and analyze deeper causes than the ongoing Syrian Crisis: 1. A new Eastern Question? 2. A renewal of Russia’s “Identity Crisis” between Europe and Asia? 3. Russia’s bitter lessons from Libya and NATO’s expansion to Eastern Europe
RUSSIA & IRAN: PARTNERS IN NEED, RIVALS INDEED
DR. MARZIEH KOUHI ESFAHANI
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and specially as Moscow re-emerged as a rising power, there have been great speculations about its relations with Iran. The question as to where Iran fits in Russia’s regional and international relations has been of importance, particularly where there has been a great impact on regional and international balance of power. As such, Moscow’s cooperation with Tehran in the Syrian crisis brought the question to the fore once again.
Applying popular International Relations theories this paper makes an attempt in explaining Russia’s policy towards Iran by looking at the broader historical, geopolitical and greater foreign policy context which shapes Moscow’s post-Cold War strategy.
THE GEOPOLITICS OF THE RUSSIAN, IRANIAN AND TURKISH INVOLVEMENT IN THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR
DR. OHANNES GEUKJIAN
The Arab revolts that began in 2011 led to a major transformation in the contemporary history of the Middle East and ushered in a new pattern of power vying by international and regional powers for influence in the region. The West and Turkey supported the rebels while Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah backed the Syrian regime. The turning point occurred in 2015, when Russia intervened militarily with the aim of returning to the global stage as a major geopolitical power. Russia’s direct involvement in Syria changed the geopolitical alignment in the region. This paper aims to examine the geopolitics of the Syrian conflict by focusing on the national interests of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The political agendas of the three countries in the different stages of the conflict diverged and converged due to the complexity of the conflict and other external actors in Syria. This paper also analyzes the intra-Syrian political talks that are being sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran and the strategies used by them to achieve their goals.
BRITAIN, BULGARIA AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE COLD WAR IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1945-1946
DR. KEITH HAMILTON
In the aftermath of the Second World War Bulgaria, along with Nazi Germany’s other Danubian satellites, Hungary and Romania, emerged briefly as a key element in Britain’s post-war endeavours both to maintain a close working relationship with its principal allies, and to achieve some kind of understanding with the Soviet Union on south-eastern Europe. This paper explores the way in which developments in Bulgaria helped shape British perceptions of Soviet aims, and the manner in which the virtual exclusion of Britain from any influence in the country undermined British hopes for future great-power cooperation.
Due to other commitments, the following scholars were unable to attend this conference. Their papers will be published alongside other papers presented at this conference.
LIBYA AND THE SOVIET UNION, 1945-1990
DR. JOHN WRIGHT
Over nearly half a century (1945-1990) Libya and the Soviet Union had a mutually unfulfilled relationship. In 1945, when Libya was under British military administration and its future unsettled, Moscow demanded a trusteeship in Tripolitania. Britain at once saw this as a bid to neutralise its hard-won strategic role in the Mediterranean, and it was rejected. Thereafter Moscow had little apparent concern for the independent Libyan Kingdom (1951-69). But even if its successor, Moammar Gadafi’s “State of the Masses”, suggested much closer interests, even they proved elusive. Moscow willingly sold prodigious quantities of arms to revolutionary Libya for the dollars needed to buy American grain; but it avoided any close ideological or military involvement in Gadafi’s international ventures in Africa or elsewhere. The relationship nevertheless vexed Washington, which in 1977 listed Libya as its fourth potential enemy after the USSR, China and North Korea.
MOSCOW’S CHANGING ROLE IN SYRIA
PROF. ROBERT FREEDMAN
After a series of major military and political victories in Syria from 2015 to 2018, Russia ran into increasing problems there in 2019. The rebels in Idlib province have proven difficult to defeat, and Russia, so far at least, does not want to alienate Turkey by hitting the Turkish-supported region too hard. Meanwhile, Israel is striking positions of Iran and Hizbollah throughout Syria, with the apparent acquiescence of Russia. Finally, the US, under its volatile President, Donald Trump continues to support Kurdish forces in Eastern Syria. Perhaps most troubling for Moscow of all, it has not been able to secure the funds needed for Syria's reconstruction. Thus by 2019 Russia has moved from being the decisive foreign influence in Syria to being a balancer of competing forces there.
A RED STAR OVER THE PYRAMIDS: THE ISRAELI AND AMERICAN RESPONSE TO THE SOVIET INVOLVEMENT IN THE WAR OF ATTRITION
DR. YEHUDA U. BLANG
Immediately following the June 1967 War, the Soviets began to swiftly re-arm the Egyptian army in order to bring it back to the level of armament it possessed on the eve of the war. The purpose of this article is to trace the Soviet involvement in Egypt and the threat it posed to Israel in the War of Attrition. At the heart of the matter lie the relations between Israel and the United States, on the background of the Soviet threat and Israel’s strategy of deep-penetration bombing of Egypt in the War of Attrition. This is an important point to make at the outset, since the bone of contention between Israel and the United States, as presented in this article, was whether the deep-penetration bombing campaign conducted by the IAF against Egypt gave rise to the Soviet penetration of Egypt and even amplified it and its involvement in the country—as argued by the United States—or perhaps it was the Soviet penetration that gave rise to the escalation between Egypt and Israel during the War of Attrition period—as argued by Israel.
SOVIET POLICY TOWARDS EGYPT: DANIEL SEMYONOVICH SOLOD IN THE STATE ARCHIVE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
DR ELIZABETH BISHOP
Daniel Semyonovich Solod was the Soviet consul to Egypt from 1944 until 1950. He served as the Soviet envoy to Lebanon and Syria. In 1953–1956 he returned to Egypt, as the Soviet envoy (becoming ambassador in 1954). In this capacity, he (first) negotiated the U.S.S.R.’s first weapons agreement with a post-colonial state, enabling the “Free Officers” to evade the 1933 Anglo-Egyptian agreement’s restrictions; (second) negotiated the U.S.S.R.’s first development assistance contract with a member nation-state of the Arab League, for the Aswan High Dam, and (third) remained in communication with the multiple organizations identifying with Egyptian Marxism. Returning from Egypt, he was put in charge of the Near East department at the Soviet Foreign Ministry. This presentation introduces two of Solod’s unpublished documents (State Archive of the Russian Federation, R-9576, op. 12, delo 18, p. 1, dated 30. XII.1957 and 28.I.1958) as well as one regarding Solod while he was ambassador (State Archive of the Russian Federation, R-9576, op. 12, delo 20, dated 12.XII.1957).