Published: January 21, 2020
As the U.S. gradually — or in some cases, abruptly — withdraws from foreign interventionism in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the ensuing vacuum to increase his country's geopolitical footprint, Hermitage Fund CEO Bill Browder said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, echoing the observations of many regional analysts.
Asked on CNBC's "Street Signs Europe" if the Middle East was witnessing "Putin's moment," Browder, who is a fierce critic of the Russian leader, replied "Everywhere is his moment."
"He stepped into Libya, into Syria, he's stepping into Iran and Iraq — he wants to be able to be a kingmaker, even if his country is not all that powerful."
The conversation followed developments in recent months and years during which Russia expanded its presence in several Middle Eastern countries; most obviously Syria, where Moscow's military intervention to support Syrian dictator Bashar Assad turned the nine-year-long civil war decisively in Assad's favor.
More recently, Russian troops swooped into northern Syria where U.S. forces had been working alongside Kurdish militias fighting ISIS. President Donald Trump's sudden announcement in October to withdraw from that conflict, citing his campaign pledge to bring American troops home from Middle East wars, drew harsh criticism from both Republicans and Democrats but was praised by the Kremlin.
"What Putin is trying to do is he's putting his foot down in the Middle East wherever he can," Browder said. "He's trying to create a situation where he has some leverage — and by Trump, for example, withdrawing from northern Syria, that created the opportunity for Russians to literally take over U.S. bases. Whenever he sees that opportunity, he takes it." source