Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Russians are coming - the week that was

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 22:  In this handout...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

  • "In a luxury hotel at Suweima, on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea, the Russians held a "Track II" conference this week designed to send a clear message to the Arab world: "We are back." Medvedev talks alongside... Medvedev talks alongside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, not pictured, after they signed bilateral accords at the Presidential Palace in Cairo on Tuesday. Photo: AP The conference, covered widely in the Arab world but hardly at all in Israel, took place just weeks after the re-launch - after an absence of some 18 years - of an Arabic version of the Moscow News. It also comes at a time of diplomatic stagnation in the Middle East that has led to increased calls from many quarters - particularly the Palestinians and the EU - for various actors in the international community to step in and impose a solution on the parties. Russia, obviously, wants to be one of these actors. Hence the two-day conference, part of the Valdai Discussion Club, put on jointly by the Ria Novosti, the Russian News and Information Agency funded by the government, and the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, the equivalent to the Council on Foreign relations in the US. The organizers invited a slew of Mideast experts from Russia and the region - including Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the "State of Palestine," Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, with a couple of people from the UK, US and France thrown in for good measure - to discuss whether a comprehensive settlement is possible in the Middle East by 2020. The hope of the conference, said Sergei Karaganov of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy at its outset, was to "generate fresh ideas." Forget about it. The real agenda, it seems, was to implant in the Arab public a sense that Russia has returned to the region and is a player. Some 50 Arab media outlets covered the conference, according to its organizers, and Ria Novosti quoted Al Jazeera as saying, "This is perhaps the first large-scale conference on the Middle East that Russia has or

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