Russia hosts Jordan’s king, hints at UAE deal

King Abdullah II of Jordan met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. They discussed the situation in Syria and Afghanistan, according to Russian media reports. “Of course, we hope for an exchange of views on the most pressing matters…They are the normalization of the situation in Syria and the current escalation in Afghanistan,” Putin said. These comments come during an important military event in Russia and Russian outreach to the UAE, as well as S-400 deliveries to India and Russian-Iran ties which are growing.  

It is part of Russia’s interest in expanding its role in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. Russia has been talking to Turkey about coordinating relations with the Taliban and Russia may hold a joint military drill with China and Iran later this year or in 2022, Iran’s Tasnim media said. The Russian ambassador announced that the exercises of the three countries will focus on maritime security and the fight against piracy, Iran’s media reported. “Apart from Russia, Iran and China, countries such as India, Syria and Venezuela will also participate in this exercise.” Russia will also support Iran’s application to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This organization increasingly is seen as a Russian and Chinese balance to declining US global hegemony. “Moscow and Tehran have similar and similar positions on some international and regional issues,” the report says.  

The Russian ambassador in Tehran also noted that Russia and Iran are negotiating on weapons, Tasnim media reports. “He said that after the lifting of the UN arms embargo against Iran, Tehran and Moscow are holding talks on a wide range of weapons. The Russian ambassador to Iran added: ‘Military-technical cooperation with Iran has a long history and is more than 50 years.’” 

After the Iran discussions, Russia wants to increase its relations with Jordan. The meeting with the King is part of that work. “Putin stressed that despite the coronavirus pandemic relations between Russia and Jordan are developing in all areas, including trade and economic ties and political dialogue. He noted that the intergovernmental commission, chaired by Russian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev, is working actively,” Tass media said in Moscow. “We are also working jointly to combat the pandemic and overcome its impacts,” Putin said.  

The Russian leader and King of Jordan examined military hardware during a walk after the meeting. “The Russian president explained that these weapons are both supplied to the Russian army and exported. In his words, direct contacts with colleagues from the armed forces of foreign countries help build up trust.” The Russian delegation to the talks included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev, and presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, Tass media noted. 

Jordan’s King Abdullah II speaks after being welcomed by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to the US Capitol in Washington, US, July 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)
The context for the meeting is the Army 2021 international military-technical forum which opened on Monday in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a command via a video conference to lay down six combat ships for the Russian Navy at three shipyards on Monday, Tass also reported. Russia and China want to increase their navies to present a peer-to-peer challenge to the US. Russia’s navy, while an important historic arm of the Russian military, has had many setbacks and needs modernization.  

“We will continue ramping up Russia’s navy potential, perfect the basing system and navy infrastructure, fit the most advanced weaponry and equipment on ships, train difficult tasks at drills and in long-distance voyages as well as display the Russian flag in strategically important regions of the world’s oceans,” Putin said. The navy is important because Russia uses it to project power in the Black Sea and Mediterranean.  

Russia is selling the S-400 air defense system to Turkey and Russia plays an important role in Syrian air defense. Recently Moscow has critiqued what it alleges are Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Russia also says the S-400 will be provided to India this year. The deputy CEO of the air and space defense company Almaz-Antey, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, told media at the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2021 on Monday that the Indian deliveries are on schedule. 

Russia is also seeking more work with the UAE, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said during talks with his UAE counterpart Al Jaberi Mubarak Saeed on Monday. Tass reported these talks as well, noting that “we, Russia, are ready not only to supply equipment and armaments but also share technologies and arrange local production on the territory of your country,” a Russian defense official said. 

Russia wants to enter the UAE market. The UAE has new relations with Israel since last year’s Abraham Accords. Fomin praised the UAE for “developing its own industry, the high-tech industry.” He said Russia and the UAE should develop relations in “directions, primarily political.” Tass media said that the UAE deputy minister for defense and defense industry was at the event. “First of all, I would like to convey my best greetings on behalf of the defense minister of the United Arab Emirates to you personally. He wishes this exhibition, this forum to develop further and grow in its dimensions,” the UAE defense official said, according to Tass media. It didn’t name the UAE official.  

The articles clearly indicate Russia’s interest in rapidly expanding its role from China to Afghanistan, across the Middle East to the Mediterranean via arms deals, new ships and international cooperation. This has major ramifications for Israel. Israel and Russia have amicable ties, but the US looks with concern on Russia and China moving into the Middle East, even as the US has been indicating it wants to draw down and focus on Asia. The US Vice-President Kamal Harris is in Southeast Asia but she has faced tough questions about the US role in the world after Afghanistan.